An Extraordinary Educational Institution

June 15, 2023

By Karl Grossman

It’s an extraordinary educational institution: Empire State University. Originally called Empire State College, it was elevated to being Empire State University in March.

As its website declares: “Founded in 1971 as the innovative campus of the State University of New York, Empire State University empowers learners from diverse backgrounds to achieve their educational goals. We have decades of experience providing educational access through online teaching and learning, individualized instruction, mentoring, and prior learning assessment.”

It is “a national leader,” it continues, “for high-quality, flexible, and affordable education. We stand alone among public institutions nationwide in our ability to provide impactful academic experiences to learners of all ages.”

The center for SUNY Empire on Long Island is its Long Island Campus in Selden, opened in 2019. Dr. Merryl Tisch, chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees, and herself a former teacher, said then: “SUNY Empire’s new state-of-the-art campus will ensure that non-traditional learners…have access to the best and most affordable educational opportunities available that can advance their lives and careers.”

The new $14 million SUNY Empire Long Island Campus is on 6.6 acres that include nature trails.

I know SUNY Empire well having graduated from it as indeed a “non-traditional” learner compared to most young college and university students.

I first went to Antioch College in Ohio, and in the second year, in 1961, inspired by an Antioch internship at the Cleveland Press, especially the investigative reporting I saw done at the Press, I decided to get into journalism—immediately.

So, I jumped on my motorcycle, my girlfriend (now my wife of 62 years whom I met in our first weeks at Antioch) on the back, and we headed to where we were from: New York (she grew up in Huntington, Long Island, I in the city) with my aiming to become a journalist.

Soon, in 1962, I was a reporter at the Babylon Town Leader with my first big story investigating the scheme of Robert Moses to build a four-lane highway the length of Fire Island and pointing instead to an alternative, a Fire Island National Seashore, which became a reality in 1964.

I started at the daily Long Island Press in 1964, to focus, after seasoning by covering cops-and-courts, on doing investigative reporting and also was given a weekly column in 1969.

In the mid-1970s there was concern at the newspaper—of reporters who had been on newspapers that had gone down—that it might be in trouble, too. And I thought, I’d better get a degree.

I enrolled in SUNY Empire, graduating in 1976. The Long Island Press suddenly did cease publication in 1977, in its 157th year. In 1978, I shifted to being a SUNY Old Westbury journalism professor and also began studying for a graduate degree in media at the New School.

I continued my Long Island Press column in weekly newspapers on Long Island and also in recent years LI news websites.

At SUNY Empire I studied mainly with writer Gary Goss which included finishing a book reflecting on my experiences in journalism, titled “Front Row At The Circus.” My wife also went to SUNY Empire eventually leading her to become a teacher of English-for-Speakers-of-Other-Languages in the Sag Harbor, Long Island school system.

SUNY Empire was a marvelous learning experience—a huge contrast from what would have been the conventional alternative: in my 30s with 18-to-22 year-olds in a classroom.

SUNY Empire was the vision of Dr. Ernest Boyer when he was SUNY chancellor from 1970 to 1975. It now serves nearly 15,000 students at 18 campuses all over New York State with 67 undergraduate degree programs, 22 graduate programs and a doctoral program. It also serves students overseas—including in the Czech Republic, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Albania and the Dominican Republic—seeking a U.S. college degree.

In June, at a commencement ceremony for SUNY Empire in Albany, its sixth president, Dr. Lisa Vollendorf, declared: “Students, you are the first class to graduate from Empire State University. Thanks to the policy changes in the State of New York and the robust academic offerings we have at SUNY Empire, we made the change to university just a few short months ago….I believe that no other institution in the country offers the same high-quality, flexible, affordable educational experience that we offer at Empire State University. We are champions of equity and inclusion, and our faculty, staff, and leadership show up every day to find new ways to deliver on our commitment to access and excellence.”

She noted that “our youngest graduate this year is 19 and the oldest is 79, nearly 16% of this year’s graduates are over age 50, and approximately 15% are under 25, you live in 58 different counties throughout New York State, in 24 U.S. states and territories and in 17 countries around the world.”

“And most of all, please know that you are part of an alumni network that is more than 95,000 people strong.” Check out SUNY Empire.



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