THE FIRST WORD: Guiding a University’s Evolution

UNIVERSITIES are organic entities — they evolve and change, shedding and acquiring over time as they determine how best to advance students’ learning and enhance their own capacity to prepare a skilled citizenry.

That process of assessment is critical to a large, complex institution like The City University of New York. Meeting the needs of a diverse student body, while contributing to the well-being of our city and state, requires constant evaluation of programs, policies and practices. This is particularly true today, when an environment of economic volatility, rapidly changing technologies and globalization has provoked urgent questions about traditional models of public higher education.

For example, as public support for public higher education has declined across the country, forcing increases in tuition, how will institutions maintain access and ensure the availability of financial aid, so that students of all means can participate in the innovation economy? As global competition increases, how do colleges reinforce to citizens the importance of learning critical thinking, analytical judgment and strong communication skills, and how can they work with K-12 schools to ensure rigorous preparation of all students?

We need to ask whether our institutions truly have a global orientation and are enabling students to contribute to an international marketplace of ideas and services. And we need to question how we deliver that education. Technology is changing how we interact with others, how we access information, and even how we think and analyze. What does that mean to our longtime models of instruction, performance measurement, and shared learning outcomes?

Over the last several years, CUNY’s process of examination and assessment has led to a number of creative initiatives, from the development of the Macaulay Honors College to the launch of online baccalaureate degrees to the inception of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) model. More recently, the adoption of a predictable tuition policy by the state — which helps families plan for college costs and ensures the availability of financial aid — is a historic change that recognizes public higher education’s essential role in the future of New York State. The University’s Pathways initiative to create a core curriculum that will streamline transfers and enhance the quality of general education across the University is also part of our effort to maintain academic rigor and relevancy well into the 21st century.

The work under way on CUNY’s 2012-2016 Master Plan also reflects our ongoing process of self-assessment. Required by the state, the plan provides an academic blueprint for the next four years, detailing our priorities and describing the University’s strategy to provide an education that offers a solid intellectual grounding within an inspired 21st century context. Developed in consultation with the entire University community, the Master Plan combines evaluative data with imaginative and forward-looking thinking to address the important questions faced by the CUNY system. Our collective answers to those questions — whether the role of undergraduate research, furthering the use of technology in teaching, or changing demographic patterns that will shape the future of CUNY — will guide not only the University’s evolution but that of our students, New York’s future leaders.

-Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor