Public, Private Colleges Both Must Thrive

Public, Private Colleges

Both Must Thrive

It’s been reported that SUNY Oneonta’s volunteer quarantining was a SUNY-wide policy.

If so, then we can expected similar COVID explosions at Cobleskill, Delhi, Binghamton and across the 64-campus system, unless the campuses can quickly apply SUNY Oneonta’s new regimen of 100-percent testing and a two-week hiatus.

Throughout the pandemic threat, there have been calls for uniform policies and instruction from Washington D.C. (or the CDC in Atlanta), so a nation of 320 million people can proceed lock-step against a common foe.

That’s fine, but there’s a downside: If some central authority gets it wrong, then we all get it wrong. New York State got it wrong – it was a fiasco, but Governor Cuomo led us out of it – allowing other states to learn and adapt, albeit not perfectly.

There’s another reason for Hartwick College’s rigor vis a vis SUNY Oneonta’s fuzzier focus. President Margaret L. Drugovich undoubtedly understood that, if Hartwick didn’t get it right, there might be no Hartwick.

Within the SUNY system, there’s a different understanding: There will be hard times, there will be cuts, but the big bureaucracy will continue churning along. Thanks, taxpayers.

SUNY Oneonta had to get it sorta right. Hartwick had to get it perfectly right.

What does this tell us?

Nationally, we need diversity among the states to come up with solutions. With COVID-19, we need a diversity of institutions of higher learning to ensure a diversity of solutions (and diversity of thought, for that matter, but that’s for another day.)

Excelsior Scholarships, the SUNY system’s free tuition for children of families with incomes of less than $125,000, have put many of Upstate’s fine private colleges at a competitive disadvantage that will erode their effectiveness over time, maybe even their ability to exist.

Yes, Cornell, RPI, Colgate, Niagara, RIT, Hamiltion, Union and, yes, Hartwick, are already feeling the pinch. Earlier this year, supportive alumni pulled Aurora from the brink.

When we eventually get to the New Normal, part of it should be a revisiting of Excelsior Program to ensure an equal playing field. First, all students should have some skin in the game. Second, the state

Legislature should make sure tuition aid is equitably spread across the board, to SUNY colleges and private institutions alike.

The SUNY Oneonta fiasco (227 cases at presstime) – and, fingers crossed, Hartwick College’s relative success to date (two cases) – underscore: e pluribus victoria.

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