President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

Read New Paltz President Donald P. Christian’s September Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

I hope that you share my sense of a fall semester and academic year launched well, and that you are quickly settling into the rhythm of the academic year. The level of energy and enthusiasm on the campus is high, and we have an exciting slate of activities and events this semester. I wish to update you on some of our institutional initiatives, challenges, and progress.

SUNY 2020 Grant. We were excited to have Governor Cuomo on campus on Tuesday to announce a $10 million award to SUNY New Paltz through the SUNY 2020 program, one of five awards ($55 million) made statewide ( These funds will be used to create an “Engineering Innovation Hub” to support the development of our mechanical engineering program, now in final review with State Education Department, and continue to grow our 3D printing initiative. This will include laboratory and office space in a new building adjacent to Resnick Engineering Hall, state-of-the-art engineering and 3D printing equipment, expanded capability to support business and industry, and new curricula and equipment investment at partnering community colleges.

This effort builds on the $500,000 initial funding for 3D printing from Hudson River Ventures and Central Hudson Gas and Electric, and the $1 million of state economic development funding for 3D through the Regional Economic Development Council. The collaboration between Fine and Performing Arts and Science and Engineering in our 3D program is at the core of this success. Paul Kassel, Interim Dean of Fine and Performing Arts, and Dan Freedman, Dean of Science and Engineering and Director of our Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center, deserve great credit for moving this initiative along so well.

Many people were responsible for the successful SUNY 2020 grant proposal, in Sponsored Programs, Science and Engineering, Fine and Performing Arts, Administration and Finance, the President’s Office. Dan Freedman was the primary author of the proposal, and deserves a special call-out for his leadership and great persistence.

US News and World Report rankings. In 2015 rankings released last week, SUNY New Paltz climbed to #4 among public regional universities in the North offering both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, up from #6 last year and rankings of # 6, 7, or 8 since 2008. The College also reached the top 25 among best public and private regional universities in the North with bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, up from No. 33 last year. This is the highest ranking in our history.

We are included in a listing of regional universities that admit a meaningful proportion of applications whose test scores put them in non-“A” territory. Of the 14 public regional
universities on the “A-Plus Schools for B Students” list, New Paltz hit #1 in the percentage of first-year students in the top 25% of their high school class. I am gratified by this recognition because it reflects our dual commitment to high academic standards and student success and our commitment to educate a broad, engaged student body.

I am naturally proud of this recognition and of our continual rise in these rankings. More fundamentally, I am rewarded by the excellent collective work and student achievement that led to this recognition. Thank you to everyone in the SUNY New Paltz community whose work contributes to these accolades.

Convocation. I again want to express my gratitude for the exceptional work and presence of so many people who welcomed new students at our Fall Convocation ceremony. This revamped event in support of multiple initiatives of the strategic plan was a great way to launch our new students’ time at New Paltz, and I hope helped them think differently about their education and their active involvement in it. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to visit our news hub for great images from the day:

Enrollment Update. Our undergraduate enrollment this fall is 6,798 students, an increase of 53 (or 0.8%) above last year. Our graduate enrollment of 1,031 students is an increase of 55 over last year and is the first sign of reversal in the steep previous five-year decline.

I hope that you will help ensure that our students, colleagues, and neighbors understand that we continue our long-term plan of stable undergraduate enrollment. We have capacity to grow at the graduate level, but much of those growth opportunities are for online or off-campus “cohort” programs that would not bring large numbers of students to campus and the community. Our extensive renovation and construction projects are not intended to support enrollment growth. These projects address longstanding deferred maintenance and an overall non-residential space deficit at New Paltz of more than 300,000 square feet as well as a severe shortage of student housing compared with SUNY peers.

With three-fourths of our state operating budget funded by tuition dollars, we truly operate on a knife-edge revenue margin, much like many private colleges. That is why our strategy is to slightly overshoot our numerical targets rather than to fall short, so that we avoid the negative fiscal, programmatic, employment and other consequences of enrollment shortfalls that could reverse our upward trajectory. The challenges of deploying additional resources to accommodate additional students beyond our target numbers are far less than the impacts of lost tuition revenue by not meeting our targets. Recognizing that, it is important that we work collectively to ensure a high-quality experience for all students even when we have a few additional students in a semester.

Park Point. Our lack of adequate student housing is one vulnerability in our recruitment efforts. I continue to believe that the Park Point student and faculty/staff housing project –with a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for student housing – will help put us on a level playing field with our competitors and also benefits the community by providing tax revenue comparable to other apartment complexes in New Paltz. My view is based on data drawn from publicly available assessment and tax records. Park Point data shown here are for student apartments only (the faculty-staff housing will be taxed at full assessment):

Tax per apartment Tax per square foot
Existing New Paltz apartments, average $1,549 $1.58
Newest New Paltz apartment $2,156 $1.74
Park Point w/PILOT $2,289 $1.82
Park Point w/ full tax $6,131 $4.83

I have operated on the premise that Park Point should pay its fair share of taxes, on a “level playing field” with existing apartments. Others have different expectations that this new student-housing complex should pay far more tax than other apartments. One must wonder whether current apartment complexes would be financially viable if their taxes were two or three times higher than they are, and the same question might be asked about Park Point. Keep in mind that other student housing like our new residence hall returns no tax to the community. Therefore, this project, by generating tax revenue for the community – at a level comparable to that of existing apartments – is beneficial both for the College and the community. Any critique of the College’s non-taxable status must give full consideration to the positive economic benefits the College brings to the community, its many businesses, and the region.

Economic Impact Analysis. Indeed, one of the most remarkable findings of our recently released economic impact study is that, despite significant recession-driven budget cuts that forced us to shift our internal economy, our economic impact in the state and the region has been virtually unchanged from before to after the recession. In 2011-12, the College generated about $336 million in economic activity in the Hudson Valley, and more than $398 million to the state’s economy. Comparable figures for 2008-09 were $338 million and $399 million – this at a time that economic recovery to pre-recession levels in the Hudson Valley lagged, and several major employers eliminated significant numbers of jobs. The College is the largest employer in New Paltz and the third largest in Ulster County. Direct college spending and student spending have both increased, and their total economic impact and job generation in the Hudson Valley have increased as a result. Nearly every measure of volunteerism and community service by College employees has increased (thank you all for these commitments!).

When I speak about our economic impact in the region and the state, I make clear that our primary mission is academic and educational — to educate students; to engage in research, scholarship, and creative activities consistent with our core mission; and to share expertise and talent to serve and support our communities. As a consequence of fulfilling that mission, we are an economic engine and a source of economic stability in our region. Furthermore, many activities that support the region’s economy also return educational dividends (student internships, for example); and, our future is tied to the state’s economy. It serves our mission and builds external support when we make these contributions known. I hope that you can use information from this analysis to inform your conversations with friends, neighbors, and others.

Capital Funding. The New York State Senate allocated a small amount of capital funding in the 2014-2015 budget to support SUNY campuses. Our advocacy and the strong support of Senator John Bonacic resulted in $3.6 million to support critical infrastructure and facilities upgrades at New Paltz. I remind everyone that these are bonded funds, and they cannot be used for operating costs like hiring faculty or staff and raising salaries.

We received $1 million to replace most existing, outdated-technology exterior lights with energy-efficient LED fixtures, in support of our ongoing goals to reduce energy use. The new fixtures are brighter, and will improve night-time pedestrian safety and security. The funding includes $750,000 for repair of the central heating plant generator and $1 million to replace the leak-prone concourse surrounding the SUB and HAB.

The allocation also includes $850,000 for a new 3D printing laboratory to be located in a high-traffic area of campus to create easier access for faculty and students. Since its launch last year, student and faculty interest and regional business and industry involvement in our 3D efforts have grown tremendously. The new laboratory will provide much-needed space for this growing initiative, and improve access to equipment for students, faculty, and staff.

One-Time Budget Process. As outlined in my State of the College address, our ability to allocate new recurring funds is constrained, but we have more flexibility in allocating one-time monies. Our process for one-time allocations this year will be tightly linked to goals and initiatives of the strategic plan. We will allocate up to $1.1 million in one-time funds (we will entertain proposals for expenditure over two years) for projects that substantially advance goals of the plan and have major impacts in the following areas:

    • Improve alignment, clarity, and coherence of curricula
    • Strengthen and expand student leadership, internship, and experiential learning
    • Develop/promote on-line programming
    • Engage alumni
    • Improve processes and efficiency

These priorities were developed by Cabinet and shared this week in Wonk, Strategic Planning Council, and Administrative Council meetings. More detail, including timeline for submissions, will be forthcoming.

National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). We recently received results from the Spring 2014 survey. Here I share some sample results that provide further context for my emphasis in this year’s State of the College address on our strategic plan goals for student learning and establishing an engaged living and learning community, and that are relevant to our discussion of liberal education/general education.

The results point to many things that we are doing well –elements that reflect a strong liberal education and critical thinking (multiple framing, reflective exploration of meaning), programming to encourage participation in the arts, student-faculty interaction. Others suggest areas for targeted improvement – quantitative literacy, level of academic challenge and rigor, translating theory into practice. Compared to peers at other institutions, our students are more likely to have given a course presentation, studied abroad, or written short papers. Our students were less likely to have taken courses that challenged them to do their best work, written long papers, to have analyzed numerical or statistical information or solved complex real-world problems, or to have reviewed notes after class. They spent less time preparing for class, working, or doing community or volunteer work, and more time relaxing and socializing.

All of the NSSE reports will be put on our campus-wide H: drive for your access and to fuel department discussion about curricular and programmatic change. Lucy Walker, AVP for Institutional Research, and her staff will sort and share results that may be particularly relevant to our liberal education discussions; evaluate findings that relate most closely to strategic plan metrics for use by the Strategic Planning Council; and develop school/college level reports to inform planning by deans and department chairs. I encourage departments and chairs to incorporate the NSSE results into your curricular and other discussions.

Upcoming events.

    • SUNY-wide Open House for prospective students and their parents will be held here tonight (9/18) from 6:00-8:30 in AWC.
    • Parent and Family weekend, Saturday, September 27 (for schedule and more detail click here).
    • Alumni Reunion Weekend, Saturday, October 18 (various events and activities; click here).
    • Richard Louv, Distinguished Speaker Series Presentation, Tuesday, October 21, 7:30 PM (click here ). This presentation is part of a broader series of events and activities commemorating the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act (click here for to learn about more events).
    • Fall Open House for prospective students, Saturday, October 25. A crucial element of our recruiting success is the willingness of faculty, staff, and departments to educate prospective students and their parents about the diverse and high-quality offerings at New Paltz. We hear every year that these conversations between faculty/staff and prospective students and their parents at Open House and other recruitment events shape the very positive views students form about New Paltz, and the eventual decisions they make to attend here. I hope you can plan to support our efforts that day.

I will look forward to seeing you at Friday’s faculty meeting, where I will be available to respond to your questions.

Donald P. Christian