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SUNY Cortland prepared for challenges

SUNY Cortland prepared for challenges


Higher education nationwide faces significant challenges, including declining enrollment, student mental health and a growing cultural divisiveness, but SUNY Cortland is better positioned than similar institutions to overcome obstacles and succeed.

That was the message President Erik J. Bitterbaum shared Jan. 23, during his Spring 2020 Opening of School Meeting in Corey Union Function Room. Bitterbaum stressed that SUNY Cortland has the means — and the people — to tackle these issues as the university heads into the 2020s.

Of the challenges facing colleges across the country, enrollment is one of the largest, a declining population in the Northeast and shrinking birthrates reduce the number of potential students graduating from high school. Yet SUNY Cortland’s student population has remained stable around 6,900 students each of the past five years. Innovative student recruitment, positive student experience and the value of a Cortland education has kept the university competitive in a crowded environment, he said.

Mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are an increasing concern among college students and parents. However, a recent study has shown that 72% of students who visited counseling services reported that it had a positive impact on their academic performance. The SUNY Cortland Counseling Center, which recently hired another senior counselor and received a gift of $500,000 from Louise M. Conley, will continue to find ways to improve student access to mental health services.

Although social media has allowed faculty and students a pathway to quickly and easily collaborate and share their accomplishments, it also gives some people a medium for spewing hatred and bigotry, Bitterbuam said. He noted that Cortland was committed to ensuring that the campus provided a safe and comfortable learning environment and urged faculty, staff and students to stand up and speak from SUNY Cortland’s values in response to this behavior.

“When something is said or done that is disturbing, we must speak out from our shared values immediately,” Bitterbaum said. “I need our faculty to do that. I need you in your individual classes to talk about justice and fairness and trust and commitment and the importance of speaking the truth. We’re going to have these issues confront us. We need to find formal and informal mechanisms where we can speak to each other on these difficult subjects.”

Bitterbuam noted many other ways in which SUNY Cortland was improving and meeting changing needs:

  • Although several SUNY campuses have implemented a hiring freeze in recent years, SUNY Cortland has continued to hire new, high-quality faculty to fill positions around campus.
  • Building renovations at Moffett Center and Park Center totaling $36 million are underway. The improvements will expand the university’s sustainability efforts and enhance academic and athletic opportunities.
  • The shortage of convenient campus parking is being directly addressed by the construction of a new lot on Lankler Drive between the Stadium Complex and the existing Route 281 lot. Further changes to the permitting system are being considered.
  • The Campaign for Cortland, a $25 million, five-year fundraising initiative intended to support key institutional goals, has already collected $19 million toward the target, with three years remaining in the campaign.
  • The Ready Event Deployment team, to be known as the RED Team, is being developed . The team of students will serve as event ambassadors and provide support services for the University Police Department, Parking Operations and the campus emergency manager. Students who work with SUNY Cortland Emergency Medical Services will work closely with team members.
  • Research has shown that online learning is increasingly in demand. Of the 1,499 undergraduate students in Cortland’s 2019 graduating class, 87% had taken at least one online course and 94% of graduate level students had studied online. Cortland will continue to expand its online program and class offerings in the future.
  • Summer and winter courses offer additional opportunities for online learning. Approximately 2,500 students enrolled in Summer 2019 and Winter 2020 courses at Cortland.

SUNY Cortland has been proactive in providing resources and support to help students succeed academically. Career Services, The Learning Center, the Writing Center and other initiatives have proven invaluable to students. “We are telling families about some of the unique things that are free for their students to use, and it will make a difference in their education,” Bitterbaum said.