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SUNY chancellor doubles down that every New Yorker is welcome, safe this school year

SUNY Chancellor John King has breakfast with Stony Brook University students who are training to be resident hall assistances before the fall 2023 semester.
J.D. Allen
SUNY Chancellor John King has breakfast with Stony Brook University students who are training to be resident hall assistances before the fall 2023 semester.

It’s the first day of school for students at New York's public colleges and universities.

WSHU's J.D. Allen spoke with SUNY Chancellor John King, who was visiting incoming students at Stony Brook University on Long Island. King had a message for all current and prospective students: "There's a place for every New Yorker" at SUNY.

SUNY Chancellor John King joins Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis for a tour of the campus.
J.D. Allen
SUNY Chancellor John King joins Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis for a tour of the campus.

WSHU: Let's talk about the recent Supreme Court case reversing affirmative action. You had said that SUNY would still take "a holistic approach to admissions." For prospective students or those who are still looking to enroll for this fall at a community college, what should a student really practically expect?

JK: First thing is every New York students should now there is a place for them at SUNY, whether that's at one of our community colleges, at one of our comprehensive colleges, or at one of our university centers, like Stony Brook. There's a place for every New Yorker.

We sent letters home this past spring to every high school student outside of New York City, letting them know there's a space for them at their local community college — again, because we want students to know we've got a place for them.

In terms of admissions in our four-year institutions, our university centers, and our graduate programs, we're committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. So, we're gonna look at first gen status. Are you first in your family to go to college? We're going to look at socioeconomic status — make sure that we are including low-income students in our campuses. We're going to look at adversity that you may have overcome in your life. And the Supreme Court said that you can look at the individual impact that race may have had in a student's life that they might convey through their essay.

I will continue to look at that. We'll also make efforts to ensure that we're recruiting veterans; that we're recruiting folks who participated in a national service through programs, like AmeriCorps. So, diversity, equity, inclusion: those are core values for us. And we're gonna make sure that our population at SUNY, reflects the full diversity of the population has stayed in New York.

WSHU: Let's move on to COVID. First-year students are moved in. What practical guide can you give to campuses and students who are dealing with new strains of the virus. And with the possibility of another vaccine coming this fall, how do you recommend staying safe?

JK: You know, COVID is still with us. And I think sometimes people talk about it as though it's in the past, but it is still with us. Folks have to make smart, healthy decisions. If they're particularly vulnerable, they may want to think about masking when indoors. Certainly, folks should get the vaccine; they should get the updated vaccine when it comes.

We're going to follow the science at SUNY and we may in our campuses need to make changes as the virus evolves. But right now, just people have to make smart, safe decisions, particularly based on their health vulnerability.

WSHU: I want to talk about an unintended consequences for students who have held Excelsior or other scholarships that were that were discontinued because of COVID. There was tremendous loss and within their families. They might have missed days. They might have not had access to the internet to be able to shift to remote.

What kind of planning does SUNY have in place for students to be able to prove that they've lost something that they might still deserve in scholarships?

JK: We try to work with students to make sure they can continue their education. You know, we've got millions of New Yorkers who have some credits and no degree. We want them to come back and finish at SUNY.

We have a campaign called SUNY Reconnect, which is really about saying to the students who may have stopped out because of the way COVID disrupted their lives, or their finances, we want them back. And we'll work with them to navigate the financial aid process, potentially the transfer process if they want to change institution, figuring out what credits they need, giving them good advice about how to complete their degree. But, again, there's a place for every New Yorker at SUNY. And that means we want them to start with us and finish with a meaningful degree or credential.

WSHU: That might mean looking into community colleges in your area.

JK: That's really one of the important considerations to make. You know, the federal government paused payments on student debt. But those payments are going to restart in October. And one way that you can continue to keep your payments deferred is by returning to school if you didn't finish your degree. So it's really important that students right now know that they may be able to to defer their payments if they start this semester.

Community colleges play such a vital role in the health of the state's economy. They are an entry point for students to potentially transfer to four-year degrees — and a very affordable entry point. But they also are the place where lots of folks are getting training that's going to lead to better jobs, whether that's a short term career certificate or an associate's degree. So we want students to think about community college as an option for them.

Our community colleges are open-enrollment institutions, so folks just need to take a look at their local community college and figure out if there's a program that makes sense for them, but there's still time. Community colleges are still enrolling students. So if you've been putting off whether or not to go to school, but you know, you want to move up at the workplace, this is the moment to take a look at our community colleges at SUNY.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.
Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.