Investing In Our Humanity

Cartoon by Julie Gundersen.
Cartoon by Julie Gundersen.
Cartoon by Julie Gundersen.

A recent article published in the Albany Times Union said more than half of students enrolled within the SUNY system graduate within six years of matriculating, giving the system one of the highest graduation rates among higher public education institutions in the country.

SUNY New Paltz alone has a six-year maximum graduation rate of 73 percent, making it one of the top three best within the SUNY system, contending with schools like SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Geneseo.

While the numbers for some SUNY schools and for the entire SUNY system are promising, there are other schools with significantly lower graduation rates. The lower rates are at the heart of President Barack Obama’s plan to help improve public higher education by 2020.

During recent appearances at SUNY campuses Binghamton and Buffalo, Obama discussed increasing funding for public higher education based on certain criteria.

We at The New Paltz Oracle applaud SUNY, and especially SUNY New Paltz, for current success in graduation rates. However, the President’s criteria for increasing funding leaves us troubled and concerned that there will be an eventual decline in our graduation rates.

To elaborate, there are four pieces of criteria the President has for public universities to gain increased funding: how many students the school accepts, locations from which students are accepted, how quickly those students graduate and how monetarily successful they are after graduation.

Schools like Buffalo and Binghamton, where a great deal of students go into pre-med programs, accounting, business and other fields considered “traditionally stable” will benefit from that final bit of criteria. Schools like New Paltz, with a wealth of students in the humanities, could suffer.

We can concede that the job market is challenging for college students everywhere. However,  students within “hard science” programs, and in turn, the schools they graduate from, will not have a difficult time finding monetary success when they join the workforce in their fields.

For students studying art, sociology, communications and English — fields seldom regarded as “stable” — monetary success isn’t something that’s a guarantee.

We firmly believe that college is about so much more than just credits and an eventual career. An undergraduate degree shouldn’t necessarily be about  assembly line-quality job training, or creating the perfectly conforming workers, but instead about a long-term commitment to academics.

The liberal arts education New Paltz prides itself on providing isn’t just about making us more well-rounded intellectually, but as members of society as well. Shouldn’t the funding incentives mirror these values?

Putting so much pressure on monetary success sends an overt message to many on our campus that their crafts, fields and passions hold little stake in the eyes of our government. We fear that schools, and this cultural sensibility, could pressure students to enter fields they aren’t suited for and abandon the things that matter to them.

College is about more than securing a future paycheck. It’s about providing safe experiences in safe environments. It’s about students finding the things that make their hearts beat a little faster, working at their respective crafts in an intellectually stimulating community of peers and, as hokey as it sounds, it’s about figuring out how to fit into the greater global community. We have no romantic delusions that money doesn’t matter, but we truly believe that an education in the humanities gives students long-lasting benefits, though they are hardly as quantifiable.

While these changes would be some years away, we hope the school and SUNY as a whole will look to negotiate with the President on his criteria and keep their students and their talents in mind when looking to increase funding.