President Mark Zupan

Alfred University helps families with limited means achieve dreamsAlfred Sunrise

As published in the Democrat & Chronicle on April 21, 2017

We agree with Governor Cuomo on the importance of making higher education more affordable, notably for students from families with more limited economic means. Providing such opportunity allows those students to better themselves, our state, and the broader world.

That said, there is more than one way to achieve the goal. Governor Cuomo’s Excelsior Program seeks to bridge the gap between other state and federal aid and the actual cost of tuition at SUNY/CUNY schools, provided the student’s family income is less than $100,000 this year. The version passed by the Legislature last weekend also gives students at private schools up to $3,000 a year in additional aid, to be matched by the institution, for students from the same income bracket.

There has been considerable news coverage about the restrictions placed on students who take advantage of the program, and concern about how many students will actually receive benefits, given the cap on the funds allocated for the program.

What gets less attention is what the more than 100 private colleges and universities in our state, 11 of them in the greater Rochester area, are already doing to make that dream of college possible for thousands of students, without all the strings attached.

Let me tell the story of Alfred University, which was established in 1836 and now enrolls over 1,700 undergraduate students; is one of the world’s leading higher educational institutions for glass and ceramic art and engineering; and has a proud progressive heritage that includes being the second school in the country to admit women and the first to allow them to take the same curriculum as men.

First and foremost is the value Alfred University creates. We transform students’ lives, and send them out to impact the world, and we have over 25,000 alumni success stories to that effect. One of these is Don McPherson, whose high-tech glasses correct for color-blindness, a condition afflicting 300 million individuals globally. Don and his Bay Area-based firm, EnChroma, have been featured recently on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times.

Enid Borden is another Alfred alumni proof-point. Enid has spent the past three decades combatting hunger among our senior citizens, first as the head of the national Meals on Wheels Association and now as the founder and CEO of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.

Other Alfred alumni have had their art grace the halls of the Smithsonian, White House, and the Memorial Art Gallery; turned around AIG and thereby repaid our federal government for its $180 billion investment in that firm post the 2008 economic recession; headed Mergers and Acquisitions for Constellation brands when it was acquiring the rights to produce and distribute Modelo products such as Corona in the United States; designed tiles for the Space Shuttle and body armor for American troops and the Rochester Police Department; and moved Marvel Comics from bankruptcy to the point of a $4.8 billion sale as Marvel Entertainment to Disney. Corning Incorporated employs more Alfred University alumni than it does from any other college or university, and while we can’t prove it definitively yet, we think our alumni have more patents per capita than most other schools in the country.

The value-added Alfred University provides its students is what the Brookings Institute in a recent report called the “X factor,” saying that students who enroll at Alfred University excel far beyond what could be expected, rivaling the impact of top Ivies.

And Alfred University does that while still remaining true to the mission that has been our bedrock for 181 years: providing high-quality education to students, regardless of their ability to pay. Almost half of our students are the first in their families to attend college and 24 percent of our first-year class is comprised of minorities.

Alfred is consistently rated a “Best Buy” by Fiske and our scholarship support for families with less than $100,000 in annual income already exceeds what the Excelsior Program is aiming to provide (even if it was fully funded). Moreover, our support comes with greater certainty (as opposed to through a lottery) and without strings that limit either where a student can pursue a job or the possibility of pursuing a co-op during college so as to enhance one’s learning and future professional prospects. And we are working with our Trustees and alums to raise even further scholarship support for our students over the years to come.

While policy pronouncements and sweeping new government programs from Albany are bound to generate media buzz on the state and national stages, it would be a mistake to overlook the impactful work being done, albeit more quietly, by private, non-profit engines of educational opportunity in other New York locales such as Alfred.

Fiat Lux!
Mark