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Growing number of New York colleges are seeking “university” designation

The Atrium at SUNY New Paltz
Courtesy of
SUNY New Paltz
The Atrium at SUNY New Paltz

Several colleges across New York state have been re-branding as "universities.”

SUNY New Paltz president Dr. Darrell Wheeler says about a year ago the state university system officially altered the designation of "university."

“Making it possible for historically comprehensive colleges, like SUNY New Paltz, and Oswego and to apply to have the name change from ‘State University College at New Paltz’ to ‘university’ instead of ‘college,’" said Wheeler. "This designation acknowledges from the state system that you don't have to offer advanced PhD’s or doctorate degrees to achieve what the state has considered, what the state classifies as university status.”

Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities President Lola Brabham praised the New York State Board of Regents for updating the definition, a quest that began in December 2021 and became official this month.

“CICU has advocated for years on behalf of more than 100 private, not for profit institutions of higher education across the state to make this critical change," Brabham said. "Removing this barrier will ensure that colleges in New York can market themselves to prospective students at home and abroad in a manner that reflects the depth and breadth of their academic offerings.”

Most people haven’t noticed because the word "university" already appears in the SUNY acronym. Wheeler says there were no major celebrations of the new title on the New Paltz campus.

“The New York designationship was one of the last amongst all university systems in the United States, to our state education system, permitting the use of university for master's granting institutions, but actually, if anything, we're kind of lagging behind the rest of the country in in making this particular move,” said Wheeler.

So, what does the change in designation actually mean for these schools going forward? Brabham says it improves their ability to attract new students.

"And just to give you an example, you know, there are many areas outside of the U.S. where the term 'college' is really the equivalent of high school," Brabham said. "And this can cause misunderstanding about an institution's academic offerings. So this just makes it more clear. what it does for schools in the state of New York, it keeps us competitive with other states and of course, you know, and increases our ability to really recruit in a way that reflects what are schools are able to offer."

The "university" tag may also be a boost for students looking to get into grad school.

The designation comes as new SUNY Chancellor John King begins his tenure. He spoke on WAMC’s Capitol Connection program with Alan Chartock.

“We are providing at SUNY incredibly affordable, very high quality education," King said. "And SUNY should be mentioned in the same breath as UC Berkeley or University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, we should have that kind of national reputation. Some of our campuses are very well known, but others less so. So we have work to do to make sure all New Yorkers see that there's a place for them at SUNY.”

Regents provided the following information:

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.