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SUNY Chancellor gets to see future of education at NNY colleges

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With State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher passing through the north country, colleges are doing their best to impress the new boss. Today, she’s visiting Jefferson Community College in Watertown before heading to SUNY Potsdam on Wednesday through her statewide 64-campus tour.

SUNY Canton President Joseph L. Kennedy wanted to show her that his college is following a new path for higher education by concentrating on practical, high-demand degree programs, online coursework and international partnerships with developing countries.

So the first thing he did was show the chancellor this commercial.

The ad is for Kaplan University, a for-profit national online college linked to the test-prep company Kaplan Inc., which is owned by the Washington Post Company. Along with another video, it has drawn controversy for its broad critique of the traditional higher education system — and its theory about the future of our country’s colleges.

Mr. Kennedy and his staffers tweaked the spot with footage from SUNY Canton when they showed it to the chancellor. The president said that the commercial might as well have been about his institution.

“The ad is very controversial. It says that we have failed the students,” Mr. Kennedy said. “The point we wish to make is we’re not a traditional university anymore. We’re a new kind of university we hope will serve the state of New York and the world well.”

Through SUNY Canton OnLine, the has been offering a growing number of courses via the Internet since 2002. The online classes have become more and more popular, as students both here and abroad use them to catch up. Here’s a story I wrote a couple months back about SUNY Canton OL:

Just to seal the deal, Mr. Kennedy gave the new chancellor a special parting “gift” Monday. He lent her an iPod Touch loaded with photos of the SUNY Canton campus, a PowerPoint presentation about the college and the commercials he discussed with her that morning.

Mr. Kennedy has heard a lot from other college administrators lately about a comment he made off-hand at a conference: “I said, ‘I’m lucky, because I’m not bound by the traditions of traditional colleges.’”

What do you think? What will the higher education system of the future look like? Are we seeing a preview today at SUNY Canton? Where does that leave public universities that focus on liberal arts, like SUNY Potsdam? What do you think will happen to private institutions, like St. Lawrence University, Canton, or Clarkson University, Potsdam?

You can send feedback to Ms. Zimpher as she crafts her strategic plan for SUNY here.

—Alex Jacobs
ajacobs@wdt.net">ajacobs@wdt.net

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