Local college presidents talk about current challenges at forum – troyrecord

TROY, NY – Local college presidents gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn on Hoosick Street early Thursday morning to participate in a college presidents forum.

The annual meeting, a key event for the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, provided an opportunity to discuss the state of higher education in the capital region.

The Forum was sponsored by architecture+; Mosaic Architects Associates; SEFCU, a division of Broadview; and UHY LLP. The forum moderator was Donna Stelling-Gurnett from the Association of Proprietary Colleges. This year’s participants were Dr. Christopher Ames of Sage College, Dr. Roger Ramsammy of Hudson Valley Community College, and Dr. David Schejbal of Excelsior University.

After each participant was introduced, Stelling-Gurnett posed four questions and gave participants the opportunity to elaborate on answers. Here are the moderator’s questions and summaries of each participant’s responses.

1. Please talk about the current higher education environment. Are you seeing any downward trends on campus? If so, how do you repel?

Ames described current trends toward higher education as a “crisis of confidence,” noting that overall college enrollment is down everywhere. As a result, colleges spend more money on recruiting efforts, leading to higher tuition costs, as the price of recruiting drives up the cost of everything else.

“It’s a situation where there are no real winners,” Ames commented.

Ames stressed the importance of showing how college graduates give back to their communities by becoming employees. This demonstration of interdependence is one of the many ways Sage Colleges are trying to combat declining enrollment.

Ramsammy noted that one of the causes he has seen for declining school enrollment rates is stagnant population growth rate. With fewer people born in the capital region, there are fewer people thinking about higher education. Hudson Valley Community College’s Future Forward program combats low enrollment with a focus on student retention. Future Forward aims to meet the needs of students and the community by providing constantly updated education and training that matches the qualifications employers seek for jobs in the industry.

Ramsammy was happy to report that the college’s efforts paid off. This year, Hudson Valley Community College saw an increase in enrollment for the first time in a decade.

“Our communities can feel the difference,” he said.

Schejbal was also pleased to report an increase in enrollment this year, stating that Excelsior University is currently seeking partnership opportunities to better serve its students. The Albany County-based online school recently transitioned from a college to a university, and while Schejbal said it would help Excelsior’s international presence, it’s still a small, focused school. on helping adults in New York State complete their college degrees.

Schejbal said that even being an online institution, Excelsior was not immune to the effects of the current national attitude towards higher education, with some questioning whether the cost of a degree produced a valid return on investment.

“A lot of people think that the world of higher education doesn’t change and that things will always be done the way they have been for years,” he commented. “And for schools like Yale, Harvard and Stamford, that’s fine – they’re big enough to carry on as they always have been.

“But things are changing, and all small schools are feeling this change and disruption. Some small schools have been forced to close. We are doing what we can to make sure we stay open. »

2. How is your college affected by the current nursing shortage?

Ramsammy noted that the ability to adapt quickly was key to dealing with the shortage, with the dean of nursing at Hudson Valley Community College working on several new programs that would expand to its new campuses, including a weekend program -end. He noted that while a student is perfectly capable of entering the nursing workforce with only an associate degree, it was important to nurture relationships with other colleges so that students who wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree or higher can move between schools as easily as possible.

Schejbal described the nursing shortage as ‘a significant national issue’, saying: ‘I haven’t spoken to a hospital in recent years that wasn’t in crisis. The good news is that there are many students who want to become nurses.

He said Excelsior, being an online-only school, has a different approach to training nursing students. Excelsior requires students to already have clinical experience and tests their clinical knowledge through online studies. Schejbal believed that a long-term solution to the shortage was to find a way to “channel” students more effectively from classroom to career.

Ames said that, like the other two schools represented at the Forum, nursing was Sage’s most important program. He announced a recently negotiated agreement with Albany Medical Center to be the primary clinical site for Sage Colleges. The agreement will help nursing students complete their clinical hours more easily. Ames also wants to address the nursing shortage by developing a program at Sage where students who already have a degree but want a second, particularly in nursing, can take an accelerated program to graduate and get into a career quickly.

3. Are there any modality changes that were implemented at the height of Covid that you will keep in place?

Ramsammy said virtual teaching has been a double-edged sword for Hudson Valley Community College, giving faculty and staff the ability to refocus on family while eliminating the in-person interactions the college is known for. He said it was an ongoing challenge to find a solution that will provide the right balance between the “hands on” that students are used to and allowing staff to keep the attention they deserve for their families.

Ames agreed, saying Sage Colleges had found that “with traditional-age enrolled students, it has become very clear that college isn’t just about the course – it’s about the experience. “. Covid took that experience away from students for two years, with online-only learning preventing many of the on-campus interactions that define a traditional college experience.

Ames said Sage is currently looking at a hybrid program that allows for online learning but still encourages the development of partnerships and working relationships. He also stressed the importance of showcasing outdoor community spaces, especially in warm weather when spaces can be used to the fullest.

Schejbal said as an online-only school, there weren’t many changes to be made due to Covid. He noted that during this period, the university experienced a sharp decline in enrollment which did not surprise him.

“A lot of families have reached a point where they can’t do everything anymore,” he explained. “And when something has to give, higher education is what it takes. You can’t get rid of your job, you can’t get rid of the kids, you can’t get rid of your family, so you get rid of going to school.

Schejbal added emphatically that “the national narrative that higher education isn’t worth it is wrong, but it is.”

4. How can local businesses support your institutions?

Ames had a simple answer: internship opportunities. He also pointed out that first-year Sage students do community service work and that the college is always ready to adjust its curriculum to meet the needs of employers.

“We are in a community rich in higher education,” he commented. “It’s important to make sure the community is involved.”

Ramsammy had an equally simple response, asking if everyone in the room had brought their checkbook. With an all-new, state-of-the-art workforce training site in the works for Hudson Valley Community College, community engagement and support through funding will be key to making the building a success. Although an expensive undertaking, Ramsammy is confident that when completed, it will pave the way for workforce success.

“56% of the new workforce comes from community colleges across the country,” he said. “Look around and see if there is another school within 250 miles doing the same thing as us. If we don’t, who does?

Schejbal felt that a change in perception would benefit area colleges.

“Business and higher education have not worked well together, and that narrative needs to change,” he said. “We want to attract big industry, but at the same time, we don’t want people to leave their small communities. How to balance this? How do we build community? How do we ensure that K-12 education and health care is good enough to entice people to move here and stay here? »

At the end of the forum, Stelling-Gurnett opened the floor to questions from the audience, then thanked participants for a fruitful discussion.

For more information on upcoming events sponsored by the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, visit https://www.renscochamber.com/.

Dr. Christopher Ames, Dr. Roger Ramsammy and Dr. David Schejbal participated in this year’s College Presidents Forum. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
Dr. Christopher Ames, Dr. Roger Ramsammy and Dr. David Schejbal participated in this year's College Presidents Forum.  (Melissa Schuman - MediaNews Group)
Dr. Christopher Ames, Dr. Roger Ramsammy and Dr. David Schejbal participated in this year’s College Presidents Forum. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
Dr. Roger Ramsammy, center, with staff and faculty at Hudson Valley Community College.  (Melissa Schuman - MediaNews Group)
Dr. Roger Ramsammy, center, with staff and faculty at Hudson Valley Community College. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)
Dr. Christopher Ames, Dr. Roger Ramsammy and Dr. David Schejbal participated in this year's College Presidents Forum.  (Melissa Schuman - MediaNews Group)
Dr. Christopher Ames, Dr. Roger Ramsammy and Dr. David Schejbal participated in this year’s College Presidents Forum. (Melissa Schuman – MediaNews Group)