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Farmingdale State College must stay on growth track

John S. Nader, provost of upstate SUNY Delhi,

John S. Nader, provost of upstate SUNY Delhi, will become the ninth president of Farmingdale State College on July 15, 2016, officials said on Thursday, March 24. He succeeds W. Hubert Keen, who announced in June 2015 that he would retire from the post at the 8,700-student four-year college in June 2016..... Credit: Farmingdale State College

John S. Nader made a bit of a splash when he formally introduced himself to Farmingdale State College last month. The school’s new president announced that next year Farmingdale will offer its first graduate degree, a master of science in technology management. That’s another major step forward for a college whose smart and steady growth has been a SUNY and Long Island success story.

In Nader, Farmingdale seems to have a leader well-positioned to guide the onetime agricultural school through its next phase as an institution emphasizing high-tech.

During the nine-year tenure of W. Hubert Keen, Farmingdale intensified its focus on science, math and technology, upgraded its academic standards, rebuilt its campus, increased enrollment while raising admission standards, and expanded programs and four-year degrees. With Keen now running Nassau Community College, Nader has a tough act to follow. But he brings with him a no-nonsense style, a self-deprecating sense of humor, and a fascinating resume.

As a former upstate small-town mayor, he knows how to run an enterprise and how to get different entities to work together toward common goals. As a member of the family that once owned New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers minor league baseball teams in Oneonta, he understands the importance of balancing tradition with the necessity of change. As the former provost at SUNY Delhi, he’s lived at the peculiar intersection of politics and educational policy that defines public higher education today.

Now Nader must learn Long Island, and he’s on his way. He gets that even a modest tuition sticker price of $6,500 plus fees can be out of reach for some local students who make up Farmingdale’s core, and he argues that more state support is needed. And he’s addressing traditional town-gown issues by vowing to increase outreach to surrounding communities.

For all of Farmingdale’s success, challenges await. A new applied social science building that would house programs such as applied economics, applied psychology and criminal justice, and help alleviate a severe classroom crunch, is being designed, but is not yet funded; Nader is talking to local legislators about the $36 million needed to build it. Farmingdale also must attract more tenants, especially an anchor tenant, for its Broad Hollow Bioscience Park, a state-designated tax-free zone intended as an incubator for biotech startups. And it needs to analyze its mix of student activities to entice students to live on campus to fill even the limited dorm space it has. Nader also is seeking to partner with Nassau Community College to offer degrees there, to help create a seamless path from high school to community college to four-year degree. That’s a good idea, as are plans to add undergraduate degrees in cutting-edge fields like sustainable energy technology, computer security technology and geographic information systems, and to work more closely with high schools to reduce the need for remedial courses when students reach college.

Farmingdale’s growth has mirrored the evolution of Long Island as the region’s economy tries to rebuild on a high-tech foundation. Now it’s up to Nader to keep the mission on track.

We wish him well. — The editorial board