Nancy Zimpher does not have a single big idea. She has six of them.
Less than a year after she became State University of New York chancellor, Dr. Zimpher is unveiling a strategic plan for SUNY that is nothing if not ambitious. Yet its goals are grounded in a realistic assessment of the role the State University should play in New York’s economy.
"In a knowledge economy," she writes in the introduction to the plan, "institutions of higher education can-and must-be pivotal in generating growth and revitalizing communities." SUNY already has a large economic impact statewide by virtue of its size-some 465,000 students on 64 campuses, with annual expenditures of nearly $10 billion and more than 61,000 faculty and staff members.
Its impact could be even greater, however, with a sharper focus and better coordination of assets in certain areas.
"Imagine the competitive advantage for New York State," she writes, "if SUNY institutions joined forces as never before, pooling knowledge, pushing and building on each other’s ideas, and collaborating in ways that deploy our distinctive capabilities to the fullest extent possible."
No. 1 on the plan’s list of Six Big Ideas is "SUNY and the Entrepreneurial Century." Noting that the linchpin of economic growth is translating knowledge into measurable benefits, SUNY wants to "cultivate entrepreneurial thinking across our entire learning landscape." As part of this effort, the university will bring successful business founders to its campuses and create a development chain to fast-track the lab-to-market process.
The strategic plan also aims to make SUNY a powerhouse in health care innovation and smart energy, building on current assets (SUNY educates nearly 10,000 students annually at its four academic medical centers) as well as addressing its own needs (the system is among New York’s top energy consumers).
The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, which is part of Gov. David Paterson’s budget plan, would give a strong financial boost to the SUNY strategic plan. But even without passage of the act, the Zimpher plan should make a major, positive impact statewide.
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