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Meeting of the Board of Regents | June 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - 11:50pm

sed seal                                                                                                 




To:                                             Higher Education Committee
From:                                        Joseph P. Frey
Subject:                                    Board of Regents Roles in Higher Education
Date:                                         June 9, 2010   




Issue for Discussion

Overview of the Board of Regents and Commissioner’s roles in higher education.


Reason(s) for Consideration


For information.

Proposed Handling

This matter will come before the Higher Education Committee at its June 2010 meeting for information.

Background Information

In many ways, the role of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York in higher education is unique with broader authority than many state Boards since the State Education Department is both New York’s state education agency and its state higher education agency.  In higher education, the Board of Regents serves as a statewide coordinating board. This paper reviews its role in planning and coordination, evaluating quality, and promoting equity and access.



Timetable for Implementation



Provided below are some of the key areas of statutory and regulatory authority of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York and the Commissioner of Education in higher education. Also provided is some context on how the Department implements this work on behalf of the Board and Commissioner.

Planning and Coordination


  • The University of the State of New York (USNY)


The higher education portion of USNY comprises 270 public, independent, and proprietary degree-granting institutions, some 6.3 percent of the nation's 4,296 colleges and universities.  New York's colleges and universities operate at 370 main and branch campuses and more than 1,800 other locations.  In the fall of 2009, they enrolled more than 1,245,000 students.  The institutions include two public university systems: the State University of New York (SUNY) with 64 campuses and The City University of New York (CUNY) with 19, 146 independent colleges and universities, and 41 proprietary colleges.


  • Incorporation, Degree Authority, and Governance


State governments authorize higher education institutions to operate.  The level of evaluation and oversight involved varies from state to state.  In a few, authorization may be granted on the basis of a relatively brief application.  In New York, authorization to operate an institution of higher education follows a lengthy examination of the quality of the faculty, facilities, equipment, and other academic resources; the proposed institution’s financial resources; its explanation for the need for it to exist; and its plan of operation over at least its first five years.  The standards for corporate and degree authority are closely tied to the Regents standards for registration of programs (discussed below). The review normally involves more than one site visit by teams of peer reviewers – faculty members and administrators from other colleges and universities.  In the broadest sense, the Regents process and requirements for authorizing a new higher education institution are the same whether the institution is to be public, independent, or proprietary.

Under the Education Law, the Regents are authorized to charter (incorporate) colleges and universities as not-for-profit education corporations, and, in conjunction with the Commissioner, are authorized to consent to the incorporation of for-profit institutions of higher education and/or the operation in New York State of out-of-state institutions offering programs leading to a degree and/or professional licensure.  The Regents are further authorized, for sufficient cause, to revoke or suspend any charters issued by them, and may remove trustees of chartered institutions, for misconduct, incapacity, neglect of duty or for failure to carry out the institution’s educational purposes.  Other sections of the Education Law that address the State University of New York (SUNY), The City University of New York (CUNY), and community colleges extend similar authority over them to the Board and the Commissioner.

In addition, the Education Law and Commissioner’s Regulations restrict the use of the terms “college” and “university” and further limit degree-granting authority to institutions chartered by the Regents as degree-granting institutions and to SUNY and CUNY campuses and community colleges, or where the Regents have otherwise granted such authority.  The Education Law and regulations also impose restrictions on the transfer of degree authority by for-profit institutions.

Finally, the Education Law confers upon the Regents the authority to award degrees.  The Regents routinely confer degrees for graduates of provisionally chartered institutions and where necessary in cases of institutional closure. 


  • Higher Education Planning


The Education Law requires the Regents to develop a master plan (known as the Statewide Plan for Higher Education) every eight years. The Statewide Plan incorporates the SUNY and CUNY long-range plans, also mandated by law, as well as the plans submitted by the independent and proprietary sectors.  The SUNY and CUNY long-range plans, and any revisions thereof, are subject to the review and approval of the Regents.  The Statewide plan is also subject to the Governor’s approval.

The Education Law states that master planning for higher education should:

a. Define and differentiate the missions and objectives of higher education.b. Identify the needs, problems, societal conditions and interests of the citizens of the State of New York to which programs of higher education may most appropriately be addressed.c. Define and differentiate the missions and objectives of institutions of higher education.d. Develop programs to meet the needs, solve the problems, affect the conditions and respond to the public's interests by:        (1) Setting goals.        (2) Describing the time required to meet those goals.        (3) Identifying the resources needed to achieve the goals.        (4) Establishing priorities.e. Be in sufficient detail to enable all participants in the planning process, representatives of the people and the citizens themselves to evaluate the needs, objectives, program proposals, priorities, costs and results of higher education.f. Optimize the use of resources.

The process of developing the Statewide Plan begins with the Regents identification of their goals or priorities, which are distributed to all institutions.  SUNY, CUNY, and each independent and proprietary institution take them into consideration in preparing their own long-range master plans.  On the basis of the Regents goals or priorities, the Department drafts the Statewide Plan, with advice, information, and input from the field, taking into account the institutional plans and, if necessary, harmonizing the SUNY and CUNY plans.  The Regents adopt the draft Plan as their Tentative Statewide Plan and hold one or more public hearings on it.  Following the hearings, the Department revises the Tentative Plan as the Regents direct and the Board adopts it and transmits it to the Governor for approval, and to the Legislature.

The Statewide Plan is the principal document guiding the Department in higher education.  Unlike many higher education master plans in other states, however, it does not explicitly direct the expenditure of resources because the Regents do not control the SUNY and CUNY budgets and because it encompasses independent and proprietary institutions, which have their own resources, as well as SUNY and CUNY.

Regents and Department legislative and budgetary priorities in higher education, as well as the shape of provisions in the Rules of the Board of Regents and the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education relating to higher education, reflect the Plan’s priorities.


Evaluating Quality


  • Program Registration and Institutional Oversight


The Education Law gives the Regents broad authority to register programs, visit, examine and inspect institutions, and to establish the educational requirements for the licensed professions.  The Board lists and classifies the degree titles available for higher education institutions to use.  It has delegated to the Commissioner the authority to register programs.  Pursuant to this authority, the Commissioner’s Regulations require every degree-granting institution to receive registration of new programs of study before it may advertise the program’s availability or enroll students in it.  It also must receive approval of major changes to existing programs.  These actions generally are based on paper reviews of applications.  In some cases, however, such as an application to begin offering a higher level of study or to establish a new branch campus, they include site visits by peer review teams.

Among other things, the Commissioner’s Regulations governing registration:


    • Provide definitions common to the standards, such as “semester hour”.
  • Prescribe requirements with respect to resources, faculty, curricula and awards, admissions, and administration.
  • Prescribe additional requirements for programs leading to licensure in specific professions licensed by the Regents under Title VIII and for programs preparing candidates for teacher certification.
  • Set forth the procedures on denial of registration.
  • Address off-campus instruction.


The standards for undergraduate and graduate curricula address:


  • resources,
  • faculty,
  • curricula,
  • admissions,
  • administration and institutional policies, and
  • academic support services for students.


Using these standards, SED has registered more than 29,000 programs ranging from short noncredit programs through programs culminating in associate, baccalaureate, first-professional, master’s, and doctoral degrees in subject areas from agriculture to zoology.  

The Department’s principal efforts are to assess and promote the quality of colleges and college programs to assure college-level work, validity of credit awarded, and the value of degrees conferred and to assist in assuring proper use of billions of dollars in State and federal funds. Some of the key activities include:


  • Conduct academic and planning reviews of programs and branch campuses proposed for Regents approval of Master Plan Amendments (including proposed new higher education institutions) and of extension centers needing the Commissioner’s approval.


  • Conduct on-site reviews and evaluate proposed new owners of proprietary colleges undergoing change of ownership for possible transfer of degree powers by the Regents.


  • Evaluate and register on behalf of the Commissioner at least 1,500 new academic programs and program changes, in standard and distance education formats, yearly.


  • Conduct statewide reviews by discipline, as needed or mandated.


  • Recommend Regents action on out-of-State institutions seeking to operate in the State and direct institutions to cease and desist unauthorized operation.


  • Monitor the closure of institutions.


  • Prepare new or amended regulations for higher education, including teacher preparation, for Regents approval.


  • Review, approve, and monitor Corrective Action Plans for teacher education programs “at risk of being identified low performing.”


  • Evaluate teacher education programs for Regents Accreditation of Teacher Education (RATE), pursuant to Subpart 4-2 of the Regents Rules (to be phased out), and participate in accreditation visits by the National Council on the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC).


  • Provide technical assistance to institutions.


Resource constraints require the Department to make peer review visits to institutions only under the following limited circumstances:


  • proposals for major institutional changes, such as to open a branch campus or extension center, or to introduce a higher level of study;
  • institutions that appear to be in weak financial condition or that show signs of academic weakness, such as poor graduation rates;
  • institutions seeking RATE accreditation; and
  • institutions voluntarily seeking the Regents institutional accreditation.


  • Institutional Accreditation


The federal government has recognized the Department as an institutional accrediting agency since it began recognizing agencies in 1952.  In 2007, the Secretary renewed the Regents recognition for five years, the maximum term possible.  The scope of recognition is “the accreditation of those degree-granting institutions of higher education in New York, including distance education offered by those institutions that designate the agency as their sole or primary nationally recognized accrediting agency for purposes of establishing eligibility to participate in HEA programs.”

New York institutions seeking to participate in federal student aid programs may choose the Regents or one of the other Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies to accredit them; 22 have received the Regents institutional accreditation. 

To demonstrate compliance with the Regents accreditation standards, an institution conducts a self-study of its strengths and weaknesses in relation to the standards and writes a detailed report of its findings, including the steps it will take to strengthen identified areas of weakness.  A peer review team reviews the self-study and visits the institution to:


  • meet with trustees, faculty, administrators, students, and staff;
  • observe classes;
  • review records; and
  • examine facilities, equipment, and other resources.


The team evaluates the institution against the accreditation standards and seeks to verify the self-study’s findings.  It makes a written report of its findings that serves as the basis for several reviews culminating in a decision by the Regents to grant, renew, or deny accreditation.  The maximum term of accreditation is ten years.


  • Certification of Teachers and School Leaders and Criminal History Background Checks


To assure that all teachers are prepared to teach all students in their classrooms, the Department carries out the statutory charge to the Commissioner to certify teachers and school leaders for public schools.  It annually certifies approximately 25,000 new teachers. The time needed to certify candidates recommended by their higher education institutions is one day. 

As part of its responsibility to assure that public schools are safe learning environments, the Department conducts criminal history background checks on all new school employees, including newly certified teachers, and issues clearances for employment.  In 2009, it issued more than 91,000 clearances and denied clearance to some 400 applicants.  It also took action on the certification of about 90 educators, pursuant to the moral character provisions in the Commissioner’s Regulations.


Promoting Equity and Access


  • Student Financial Aid


New York provides more grant aid per student than any other state.  In 2006-07, it provided 15 percent of all need-based grants in the nation and 10 percent of all state student financial aid.  It exceeded California’s aid by 14 percent.

Established in 1974, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is New York’s primary program to provide grants to New York residents who are full-time students at higher education institutions.  Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for a combined total of eight years of aid based on (1) tuition charged and (2) family income.  The program is based on need, not merit. 

Unlike the federal Pell grant program, TAP is a true entitlement.  If appropriations are insufficient to fund all grants, it is necessary for the Legislature to make a deficiency appropriation to fund the shortfall, rather than reduce grants to students.

Full-time undergraduates may receive grants equal to tuition charged, up to $5,000, with grants reduced as family income rises.  Eligibility ends at a family net income of $80,000.  Effectively, for the lowest income students TAP meets full tuition at SUNY and CUNY, and about 20 percent of tuition at independent institutions.  The vast majority of degree and credit-bearing diploma programs at SUNY, CUNY, independent institutions, and degree-granting proprietary institutions are approved by the Department for TAP, as are a few programs at some non-degree hospital schools and proprietary schools.

To continue to receive TAP, students must make progress toward completing their programs according to institutional schedules approved by the Department.  Some aspects of these schedules are set in statute.

Aid for graduate study is less generous, as is aid to emancipated undergraduates with no tax dependents of their own.

Some part-time undergraduates at SUNY, CUNY, and independent institutions are eligible for pro-rated TAP.  Part-time students at proprietary colleges are not eligible.

The Regents are authorized in law to promulgate the educational requirements that academic programs must meet to make students eligible for TAP awards, if qualified.

The Regents and Commissioner also have the statutory authority to enforce any violations of the student lending provisions contained in the Student Lending Accountability, Transparency and Enforcement Act (SLATE).



  • Opportunity for Higher Education – Grant Administration


  •  Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) - A program, of contracts between the Commissioner and independent higher education institutions for the enrollment and support of educationally and economically disadvantaged students.  HEOP annually serves over 5,500 students who meet statewide financial eligibility requirements and are inadmissible according to the institution’s regular admission standards, with more than 32,000 graduates since the program’s inception in 1969.  HEOP students consistently graduate at a rate (55 percent) comparable to their peers, nationally.  The Educational Opportunity Program at SUNY, the SEEK program at CUNY senior colleges, and the College Discovery program at CUNY community colleges, are the SUNY and CUNY counterparts to HEOP and are subject to the Regents review.


  • The Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) of grants by the Commissioner to higher education institutions or consortia thereof seeks to increase minority or disadvantaged students’ access to programs preparing for licensure in a profession regulated by the Regents or for scientific and technical employment.  In 2007-08, 90 percent of CSTEP participants were African-American, Hispanic, or American Indian.  CSTEP serves over 5,800 students annually with 88 percent of CSTEP students matriculating in STEM and health related fields in 2007-08.  In 2007-08, 39 percent of CSTEP graduates applied for professional licenses. 


  • The Liberty Partnership Program (LPP) of aid administered by the Commissioner to higher education institutions or consortia provides support services to students in public and non-public schools who have a high risk of dropping out.  LPP develops collaborative pre-collegiate/school dropout prevention programs that support at-risk youth (grades 5 -- 12) to graduate from high school and prepare them for successful transition into higher education or onto a career path.  Required LPP partners include a higher education institution, a school or district, and a community based organization.  Forty-one LPP projects have partnerships with more than 300 schools and community based organizations.  LPP serves over 14,000 students annually with a 99 percent persistence rate.  In 2007-08, 83 percent of its graduates entered college or the workforce.  Of the 1,577 LPP graduates entering college, over 950 did so in New York State. 


  • Other Department-administered programs to promote equity and access include:


  • Smart Scholars: Early College High School Program, a University of the State of New York program to provide an accelerated program of study in which students complete a high school diploma while earning an average of 20 college credits.  In its initial year (2009-10), Smart Scholars is funded by a $6 million grant from the Gates Foundation.


  • The Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) and the federally funded Learn and Serve America (LSA) program to provide elementary and secondary pupils with services and enrichment opportunities that prepare them for college and meaningful work.  STEP’s purpose is to increase the number of historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students (7th – 12th grade) prepared to enter college, and improve their participation rate in mathematics, science, technology, health related fields, and the licensed professions.  Fifty-one STEP projects work with more than 100 schools.  STEP serves over 8,700 students annually with 88 percent of STEP graduates enrolling in college.  Sixty-three percent of those college-going graduates pursue math, science, or technology majors.


  • LSA’s purposes are to (1) develop, implement, and integrate service learning into schools wherein students in grades K-12 have opportunities to volunteer their service for the benefit of others and their community;  (2) foster civic responsibility, participation, service and knowledge in young people;  and (3) increase the number of adults who volunteer in school based, service-learning programs.  It serves over 38,000 students.


  • The federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which funds career and technical programs at both secondary and postsecondary institutions.  


  • The High Needs Nursing Program, which provides State aid for high needs nursing programs to two- and four-year independent higher education institutions with registered associate degree or higher nursing programs.  Aid is based on the number of students enrolled in the nursing program.  Institutions receive up to $250 for each student enrolled during the fall semester in a high needs nursing program at an eligible two-year institution and up to $500 for each student in a high needs nursing program at an eligible four-year institution.


  • The federal Teacher/Leader Quality Partnerships (TLQP) program, established by the No Child Left Behind act, makes grants to eligible partnerships (consisting of a college’s teacher education program or division, a liberal arts college or division, and a high-need school district) that design and provide professional development to teachers and school leaders to enable them to help pupils improve in academic performance.


  • The Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC) program, which makes grants to higher education institutions with teacher preparation programs:


  • to enhance the preparation of teachers and prospective teachers in addressing the needs of pupils at risk of truancy, academic failure, or dropping out of school, and
  • to increase the participation rate of historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged individuals in teaching careers.


Targeted activities allow teachers and prospective teachers to improve content knowledge and classroom practice in order to help pupils achieve academically.


  • TOC annually serves some 464 teachers in 17 projects.  The certification examination scores of TOC participants continue to be exceptional with a Liberal Arts and Sciences Test (LAST) certification examination pass rate of 93 percent and an Assessment of Teaching Skills – Written (ATS-W) certification examination pass rate of 99 percent.


  • Teachers of Tomorrow program, which provides incentives to encourage teachers to teach in a school district experiencing a teacher shortage or subject shortage, in Schools Under Registration Review, low-performing schools, and high need schools.  Since 2000, Teachers of Tomorrow has recruited more than 17,000 teachers new to districts to teach in schools most in need and reimbursed over 9,200 teachers for coursework toward earning permanent or professional certification.    


  • Aid for Independent Higher Education Institutions


  • The Education Law provides for a program of grants administered by the Commissioner to independent higher education institutions that meet constitutional eligibility and academic requirements to support their operation, apportioned on the basis of earned degrees awarded (“Bundy Aid”). The program is popularly named for McGeorge Bundy, who chaired the select committee that recommended the State adopt such a program.  Of the 146 independent institutions, 106 are eligible to participate.  They generally use Bundy Aid to restrain growth in tuition.  Since aid is apportioned on the basis of degrees awarded, Bundy Aid rewards institutions for maintaining good graduation rates.  It is the only State program of institutional operating aid that does so.  At present, the Legislature funds the program at only 25 to 30 percent of full entitlement.  It has not been fully funded since 1990.