SUNY OPEN Gets It! (Part 2)

Note: In January 2014, Open SUNY was started with a full roll-out to happen in September 2014. This post reflects on their online strategy as a university and calls for CUNY to begin to address hybrid/online from an institutional perspective.


The previous post outlined SUNY’s new initiative in the field of online learning, which they have branded as “Open SUNY.”  In this post, I compare and contrast what CUNY has (or hasn’t) done in this regard and provide my personal perspective.

A. We Are in a Competitive Online Environment

You may not know it from CUNY’s online strategy, but online learning is increasingly a very competitive arena as more institutions of higher education realize the potential for enrollment growth may come from off-campus, adult-learner students. So, a college that starts a sustainability program has what is called “first mover advantage.” While CUNY considered, then rejected, this promising area for degree development, several other institutions have already come to market with wonderful online sustainability programs.  In the future, if CUNY decides to reconsider this option, it will be more difficult to successfully come to market in an already saturated environment. The same could be said for other online degree programs; they have already been developed by other competitors, including SUNY, which currently has 400 online programs to CUNY’s dozen.

B. Something Beats Nothing

If one team has a plan and the other doesn’t, all things being equal, the team with the plan will win the competition. That is what is currently happening in the New York State public education online marketplace. Several years ago, SUNY had about 100 fully online programs; today they have 400.  In that same period, CUNY has gone from six online programs to 12. What accounts for this difference?  SUNY has developed and executed an online strategic plan, whereas CUNY has no such plan, and has no urgency to develop one in the near future. The gap between these two institutions will continue to increase until CUNY sees the necessity for strategic planning in this area.

C. Programs, Not Courses

CUNY college presidents’ performance ratings are based on performance measures called PMP. One of the many criteria for a president to get a good rating concerns the percentage of hybrid/online courses offered at a campus. Many CUNY campuses are woefully under-represented in terms of online courses offered, ranging from a paltry 1.5% at one senior college to about 10% at the best. These numbers, at face value, are not good in comparison to most public universities.

Even worse, what PMP measures is not a good metric, and understates how ineffective CUNY’s online efforts truly are. A much better comparison is the number of fully online programs a college has, since it is programs that can really impact whether a student enrolls at one college or another.  A few scattered courses offered throughout the curriculum will not appreciably impact time-to-degree, enrollment numbers, or other important evaluations of an institution’s success. CUNY must direct its focus on online programs to stay relevant in this arena.

Next Post: More Analysis of SUNY vs. CUNY Online Programs

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