SUNY Gets It (Part 3) A Tale of Two Universities

Note: On 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 a university perspective.


In previous posts, I  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 perspective. The chart below shows the disparity between the two NYS public institutions for higher education in terms of online.

                 Tale of the Tape (Best statistics as of 2014)

Online Programs 400+   12
Fully Online Courses 12,000+ approx. 1000
Planned increase online students in next 3 years 100,000  ?
Strategic Plan Yes No
Online Global Perspective Yes No
Take courses @ other campus? Yes No
24/7 Student Support? Yes No

This chart could easily be expanded to contrast many other criteria important to the success of an institutions online programs like, uniform faculty development program, collaborative efforts, and team-based course development.  These data points clearly show a “tale of two cities” scenario that can only be attributed to how these institutions view, plan, and implement online programs. In my estimation, CUNY, unlike SUNY, still “doesn’t get it.” What the “it” is, is the importance of online learning for the future success of the institution. CUNY still is not taking online seriously, hasn’t a strategic plan for the entire institution concerning online, and does not support and encourage campuses with dedicated resources to implement online programs. With a new Chancellor, I would hope that  new direction for online learning at CUNY might have a chance of being considered.

SUNY Takes Online Seriously

From the SUNY Chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, at the inauguration of Open SUNY on January 14, 2014:

“Open SUNY will completely redefine access to a college degree in our state, reaching every child and adult in every school and home in New York,” added Zimpher, “reaching them on their terms—in their homes and communities, and on their time, adapting to their schedules.” (reference below)

This major initiative involves serious planning for just about every aspect of the student experience, online infrastructure, faculty development, and transfer of course credits between campuses. For example, the press release states:

“Included as part of Open SUNY are built-in supports for students and faculty, such as 24/7 assistance for students, whether they need technical help, tutoring, financial planning, or academic advisement services; and a Center for Online Teaching Excellence where faculty can opt in to training programs and online for a to broaden their knowledge about developing effective online courses, or share best practices and learn directly from colleagues across SUNY.” (reference below)

A.  Support of SUNY students 24/7 from a central help line provides efficiencies of scale and support for online student learners across SUNY campuses. Moreover, students at one SUNY campus can easily take an online offering at another campus to speed their time to degree and take courses not available at their local campus.  In contrast, CUNY has no 24/7 help now or in the planning stages, and has just undergone a bitter Pathways controversy which purports to speed the transfer of credits between 2- 4 year colleges.

B.  SUNY has established an online global presence in their COIL campus in the heart of NYC. The Center, established in 2010 with the following mission:

The SUNY Center for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) is one of the leading international organizations focused on the emerging field of Globally Networked Learning (GNL); a teaching and learning methodology which provides innovative cost-effective internationalization strategies. Such programs foster faculty and student interaction with peers abroad through co-taught multicultural online and blended learning environments emphasizing experiential student collaboration. (from COIL website, reference below)

The concept of expanding an institution’s online offerings from regional, to national, to global reflects a later stage in online program development (see previous blog post). SUNY has chosen to create this innovative Center to start a process of looking outward to potential collaborations with other countries, vendors, and collaborations. Simply put, this is light years ahead of where CUNY is at this point.

C.  SUNY has a comprehensive model for online faculty development (link here to video). It will take another blog post to detail the numerous advances in this area that SUNY is truly pioneering.  For now, viewing the video is a good starting point. For someone who is in the trenches of online faculty training at a CUNY college, I can say that we have nothing that approaches SUNY’s vision, scope or program implementation. Instead, for many years I have labored under several administrations dismissive, if not adverse to online learning and a faculty governance process that equated hybrid courses with “experimental” courses in a faculty senate vote about 3 years ago. Both faculty recalcitrance and administration neglect has created a situation where only about 1% of courses on my campus are either fully or partially online at this point. This is a sad state of affairs.

In conclusion, there is a wide gap in online envisioning, planning and implementation between SUNY and CUNY. In my estimation, SUNY is at minimum a decade ahead of CUNY in this area with the gap widening with each passing month that CUNY languishes without making online programs a priority. SUNY has pointed the way.  With the right vision and leadership, CUNY can still create a viable path for online learning that is competitive, innovative, and strategic.

Note: Please email me if you come across any factual errors and I will gladly correct numbers in this post. Unlike SUNY which openly offers it’s online statistics, CUNY does not.


SUNY Empire State College One of Six SUNY Colleges To Debut Open SUNY, Empire State College Press Release, available at:

The SUNY Center for Collaborative Online Learning, mission statement available at:

Pickett, Alexandra, “Open SUNY Digital DNA: Emerging View of Open SUNY Initiatives,” ELI 2014 Spring Focus Session, available at:

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