Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for experiential learning through internships and/or part-time jobs as a new graduation requirement for all SUNY students in his proposed SUNY budget for next year.
Frederick Walter, the former president of the Stony Brook University Senate who currently serves on the SUNY Senate, said Stony Brook is ahead of the curve as the current Stony Brook Curriculum calls for experiential learning upon graduation; however, how the Governor describes experiential learning and how Stony Brook University does are completely different.
The SBC asks that students at some point learn through experience, whether it be through internships, jobs, research, scholarly activity or service learning, among other experiences. Cuomo’s plan would mandate experiential learning through internships.
According to Walter, an internship would definitely help a business or journalism major, but certain students would not benefit from working as an office intern, but they rather need experience in study labs doing research and experimentations.
Issues with experiential learning being mandated by the Governor go beyond a lack of an explanation of exactly what experiential learning is. There are over 60 SUNY campuses, not counting CUNY schools, which also fall under the list of SUNY campuses.
As Walter pointed out, this mandate would be “a system-wide thing. There are 400,000 students in the SUNY system. It is huge…there aren’t enough companies in the state of N.Y. offering internships.” Not only that, but with over 60 unique schools, mandating the same requirements for all would be foolish, Walter said.
Stony Brook University professor and Director of the Center for News Literacy Dean Miller noted additional issues. Experiential learning should be a requirement “only if students have access to it” and “so many students can’t afford internships because so many of them are unpaid,” he said.
In “Moving the New New York Forward,” Cuomo explains START-UP NY, “a game-changing initiative that is transforming SUNY campuses…into tax-free communities” with the goal to attract new businesses and offer them the opportunity to create new jobs—including paid college internships.
Even with tax breaks creating paid positions, Miller said there will be an advantage to the rich for paid internship positions. The tax breaks are “a start… but making [experiential learning] a requirement is easy, and cheap and it doesn’t really solve the problem,” he said.
“The problem is [the] student who is working two jobs just to get through school can’t afford to take an unpaid internship,” Miller said. Another issue is that although 1,300 new jobs may seem like progress, there are over 400,000 students in the SUNY system. This means there are potentially 400,000 students seeking jobs who otherwise would not be.
Despite many groups offering paid spots, Miller said, “Organizations know that students need the experience, so they can get away with not paying.”
Requiring all students to gain an internship would force certain disadvantaged students into picking up unpaid spots, which is “lunacy,” Miller said.
Cuomo has faced opposition for trying to mandate this. Walter said many SUNY Senate members wonder why the governor is mandating curriculum, as no governor has done so previously.
Cuomo is a politician not a professor, therefore he does not fully understand what he is mandating.
The Governor’s Press Office did not comment.
Cuomo has also said he will withhold 10 percent of funding from SUNY campuses until they submit performance plans.
Campuses submit performance plans, which are set goals for a given year unrelated to the experiential learning mandate. If they do not submit the plans, the Governor will withhold 10 percent of funding, which would be approximately $15 million for Stony Brook.
If Cuomo mandates that experiential learning be a graduation requirement, it will become the standard for SUNY campuses. He wants this mandate to go into effect as soon as possible.
Cuomo hopes that experiential learning will be added as a graduation requirement as early as next year, which would affect most current SUNY students.