NYS Board of Regents changes definition of ‘university’

State News

New York State Education Department

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents has voted to change the definition of “university.” The proposed amendment was first brought to the Board at its February 2021 meeting and was passed at its January 2022 meeting.

In 1969, the Board of Regents adopted the last current definition of “university” in the Commissioner’s Regulations:

“University means a higher educational institution offering a range of registered undergraduate and graduate curricula in the liberal arts and sciences, degrees in two or more professional fields, and doctoral programs in at least three academic fields.”

Section 50.1(l) of the Commissioner’s Regulations

The new definition, which is going into effect on January 26, is:

University means a higher educational institution offering a range of registered undergraduate and graduate curricula in the liberal arts and sciences, including graduate programs registered in at least three of the following discipline areas: agriculture, biological sciences, business, education, engineering, fine arts, health professions, humanities, physical sciences and social sciences

Amended Section 50.1(l) of the Commissioner’s Regulations

The amendment removes doctoral programs and degrees in two or more professional fields. It further adds graduate program discipline areas and requires to have at least three registered.

Over the years, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), as well as colleges and their advocates, have raised concerns over the previous definition. Those concerns included:

  • New York being the only state requiring the creation and operation of doctoral level programs to be a university.
  • Confusion caused by the word “college” when recruiting international students, and the fact that all other states and jurisdictions have broader definitions of “university”
  • Increasing competition from institutions chartered in other states recruiting students in New York, nationally and internationally, where the term “college” presents a marketing challenge
  • The market for higher educational services and programs has expanded over the past decade, with the proliferation of online higher education degree programs and the growth of several institutions chartered out of state and doing business in New York as universities.
  • The use of the word “university” in the names and marketing of community colleges; i.e., SUNY Schenectady.

Following the proposed amendment in February 2021, the Higher Education Committee held a 60-day public comment period required under the State Administrative Procedure Act. The Department said it received over 700 comments on the proposed amendment.

The Board included the proposed revisions for the October 2021 meeting. Another public comment period was held after that.

“We applaud the New York State Board of Regents for updating the state’s definition of “university.’ bringing New York State into alignment with the rest of the country. CICU has advocated for years on behalf of our members — the 100-plus private, not-for-profit institutions of higher education across the Empire State — to make this critical change a reality. Removing this barrier of designation will ensure that colleges within New York State market themselves to prospective students at home and abroad in a manner that reflects the depth and breadth of their academic offerings and will help retain and support the value of degrees from these institutions,” said Lola W. Brabham, President of CICU.

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