Updates - From the Office of the NYIT President
Jun 29 2011
Higher Education on Long Island:  Dynamic, Diverse, and Driving Our Economy

President Guiliano addressed the Nassau County Business Advisory Council in Hempstead about the economic impact of Long Island’s colleges and universities.  His remarks suggest ways for government, business, and higher education officials to reverse the “brain drain” of accomplished local graduates.

Long Island

Good morning.  Before sharing my ideas about why you should thank us – the local institutions of higher education – I’d like to thank you, starting with members of the Nassau County Business Advisory Council, for this invitation.  Thanks also to County Executive Ed Mangano for assembling this distinguished group.  On behalf of New York Institute of Technology, we appreciate all you do to enhance the business climate. 

I’d like to discuss the impact, economic and otherwise, of Long Island’s higher education community. And then I’ll talk about what we can do – together – to make sure we retain the best and brightest for Nassau and Suffolk after they toss their mortarboards each May.  

After years of teaching, I know that attention spans waver when the temperature climbs, so I promise my presentation will be to the point.  I welcome your questions and comments afterward.

About NYIT

For anyone who hasn’t followed us in recent years, NYIT is a non-profit independent, private institution. What began as a few floors in a small building in Manhattan nearly 60 years ago has grown into two campuses in New York. One of them sits across from Central Park by Lincoln Center and the other lies amid the green landscapes of Old Westbury.  I am proud to say that students from all 50 states and 106 nations attend NYIT.

We’ve also developed campuses in Canada, the Middle East, and in China – where just last month we held our first annual undergraduate graduation ceremony.

We offer undergrad, graduate, and professional degrees in architecture and design; arts and sciences; education; engineering and computing sciences; health professions; management; and osteopathic medicine.  The New York College of Osteopathic Medicine of NYIT is the nation’s second-largest medical school. I’ll speak more about NYCOM in a few minutes.

NYIT’s goal is to provide students with skills that fit the demands of a global culture, and these days that mission should resonate in these very cosmopolitan suburbs of New York.  Whether our students settle in Nanjing, Naples, or Nassau, we want to give them an edge. We do that by offering career-oriented professional education.  By graduation, they understand and embrace technology.  We support interdisciplinary, team-oriented approaches to real-world problems. 

NYIT is proud of its role as a growing global university, connecting students and faculty with one another virtually, and encouraging a steady flow of ideas and opportunities.  We aim to graduate globally competent citizens of the world.  At the same time, we seek to bring faculty expertise, resources, and our students’ skills to the world.

While I often talk about NYIT’s global reach, I’m particularly proud of our local contributions of talent, knowledge, and innovation.  Our engineering students have designed solar homes – one of them is now in Kings Point at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and the other is part of the Town of Hempstead’s Energy Park.  In the early 70s, our faculty and students started designing and constructing hybrid electrical vehicles, and our fleet of energy efficient vehicles is growing on the Old Westbury campus.

We are also leading an important new phase of the study to measure Long Island’s carbon footprint.  NYIT faculty and students are designing interactive website features to assist Long Islanders in reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

We probably have a direct impact on you or someone close to you. At last count, 1,320 NYCOM grads were practicing in Nassau or Suffolk counties. 

Just a few weeks ago, we opened a family health care center in Central Islip, in addition to our community clinic in Old Westbury. Our faculty members will treat thousands of Long Islanders there, while third- and fourth-year students will complete their rotations. We have a number of health centers at NYIT, including gerontology and geriatrics, health literacy, global health, and a Parkinson’s treatment centers. They work with government, civic, professional and business groups to devise solutions and educate the community.

Our doctors are leading groundbreaking studies. The chair of our biomedical science department, Dr. Martin Gerdes, just won a $1.8 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate a link between thyroid function and heart failure.  

Economic Impact of Colleges and Universities

But I didn’t come just to talk about NYIT. Long Island’s colleges and universities are among the most valuable assets around. In these difficult times, the “eds and meds” supply much of the economic, political, and social capital we need to thrive.  Within 15 miles of where we sit today, nine colleges and universities are flourishing – expanding programs, facilities, and enrollment as they offer local, national, and international students a degree respected around the world. 

A report by the Long Island 2035 Visioning Initiative notes that both population and employment will grow more slowly here than in other New York suburbs.  But growth will happen and most of it will be in education, business, professional, health, leisure, and hospitality fields. 

This year, the Long Island Association issued a special research report about educating Long Islanders in a changing economy.  Pearl Kamer, the LIA’s chief economist, discussed ramifications of the major change in our nation’s economy  ΜΆ  the movement to a knowledge-based economy where prosperity and growth rests on the creation and distribution of knowledge.

As college costs have risen, the media has posed questions about the value of a college education. Typically, this scrutiny focuses on undergraduates or graduates having a difficult time finding a job.  It makes for debates among students, parents…and college presidents.  We stress that a college education is one of the best investments a student will ever make, and many studies bear this out. 

Now let’s look at the issue from another perspective:  the value of higher education for Long Island is also undisputed.  Our local economy is dependent on the economic contributions of our institutions, as well as the human capital we produce for our communities.

Keep in mind that non-economic benefits of college education accrue to individuals as well communities.  The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities notes that while higher education institutions promote teaching and research, the campuses also enhance community life and improve health and safety.  College graduates volunteer more, vote regularly, and participate in their communities; the seeds of life-long civic engagement are sown through the opportunities at colleges. 

In fact, our staff encourages students to help the community whenever possible. Our students actively seek out volunteer opportunities, and provide matches for other students based on their interests. Through volunteer work across Long Island, students are gaining valuable experience, just as if they were interning in a big accounting firm. These opportunities make them well-rounded and public-spirited –  traits that will truly help them as they enter the job market.

Let’s take a look at some numbers, too. Clearly, NYIT and our neighboring Long Island colleges and universities help power the economies of Nassau, Suffolk and the entire state.  We educate the next workforce generation, employ thousands of people, and provide an economic advantage that cities and towns without such institutions can only dream of.

Allow me to share some statistics and stories: 

  • During 2009-2010, Long Island’s colleges and universities employed more than 37,000 workers.  As a comparison, 25 years ago at its peak, Long Island’s largest employer, Grumman, employed 23,000 people.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that NYIT was recognized as a great college to work for in 2010 by the Chronicle of Education – and we have a good feeling we will be able to say the same this year.
  • The Long Island Association reports that spending by Long Island colleges and universities supports an additional 151,000 jobs across all sectors. 
  • The total operating and capital expenditures of Long Island colleges and universities in 2009 – 2010 was nearly $5 billion.  Through 2014, they expected to spend another $2 billion on capital projects.  At NYIT, we’re doing our part – we’re in the middle of an expansion of our Student Activities Center, and we hope to construct more buildings in Old Westbury in the next few years.  

Across Long Island, campuses are growing to accommodate the demands of programs and educational missions.  Adelphi, for example, is building new sports and recreation center, and a new performing arts center.  Molloy’s first residence hall will open this fall, along with a new student center and theater.   

It’s not a matter of “if you build it, they will come.”  It’s more like: “we have to build it because they’re coming.”  

Then there’s the multiplier effect of our spending.  If you include the original expenditures of Long Island colleges and universities, their spending boosts Long Island’s output of goods and services by almost $15 billion.  That’s more than 10% of Long Island’s gross regional product of $137 billion, as reported by the Long Island Association.  The kinds of businesses that benefit from spending by Long Island’s colleges and universities range from arts and entertainment to real estate, construction, health care, and transportation.  

Let’s not forget about the ancillary businesses. Take pizza.  Did you know that the average person in the United States consumes 46 slices each year?  Now, college pizza stats are hard to come by, but my unscientific research indicates that number is about 150 slices a year for the average student. Multiply that times 173,000 college and university students on the island…that means our Island’s pizza economy must generate almost 26 million slices annually.  Don’t you agree that would make an impressive economic pie chart?  

Training the Workforce

All of us agree that attracting new employers and jobs to Nassau is vital.  But those of us in higher education are always thinking about the other side of the equation:  preparing students so they can be the answer for the managers who are looking to fill the jobs – old and new – that drive our economy.  

Here’s an example of how we’ve reacted.  We are constantly updating our curriculum to meet the changing needs of the business world. Last year, we introduced a new core curriculum with a greater focus on skills needed in the workplace.  We’re also working to change the gender imbalance in the fields of engineering and computing sciences by reaching out to attract, retain, and support women in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math.

This September, we’ll offer a new concentration of courses in the growing field of cybersecurity, which will benefit businesses in Nassau, Suffolk and far beyond.  It seems like every day we hear about another data breach – whether it is in the government, at a bank, or even in gaming systems like Sony PlayStation. We also are planning our second Cyber Security Conference, a new venture that has helped IT employees and leaders prepare for cyber-attacks and start moving to thwart these attacks. 

My counterparts and I are aware of the gap between the skills of many “dislocated” or unemployed workers and the demands of employers.  We’re enhancing on transformational skills, like science and math to spur economic growth – along with industry-specific skills, like engineering and nursing. 

Colleges and universities across Long Island have joined to fill these gaps, and re-train Long Island’s workforce. NYIT worked with professionals in three advanced courses through a Department of Labor grant for those looking to advance their careers in specific areas in green and sustainability, manufacturing, and engineering. 

In May, a 40-year-old grad completed his master’s degree in energy management after being laid off as a financial advisor. Now he is diving into the job market with new knowledge and internship experience. He didn’t simply take classes, he founded a networking organization on campus that connects alumni and students interested in sustainability careers. 

Retaining the brains

Let’s be clear: Educating students with top-flight programs and creating jobs while we pour billions into the economy is not enough.  Because of Long Island’s housing costs and job outlook, we often end up unwillingly exporting the top talent we have helped create.  The students we attract from distant states and countries, along with those who commute daily to our campuses leave us for greener pastures – literally and figuratively. The brain drain robs us of more than an educated workforce; we lose dollars, commerce, and dynamic flair for our neighborhoods. 

The statistics are stark.  In 2000, nearly 13% of Long Island’s population was between ages of 25 and 34. By 2008, the number had dropped to slightly under 10%.  The Long Island Index reported that nearly a quarter of the population of 25- to 34-year-olds left Long Island in that eight-year span.  Just a few years ago, 65% of Long Islanders between 18 and 34 said in a survey that they were likely to move off Long Island in the next five years.  

Remember those young NYIT students you saw in the video?  What area would not benefit from having some of these dedicated, passionate professionals graduate and work nearby?

We need to do more.  In the report that I cited, the Long Island Association predicts that local institutions of higher education will play a more crucial role in our region’s economic development.  Merging education with economic revitalization – in the form of research, local business partnerships, and consulting -- will lead to greater economic growth as the knowledge economy grows more prominent. 

That’s why the new “Accelerate Long Island” program is a welcome initiative; we are bolstering collaborations and commercial applications of homegrown research. As someone who has fond memories of doing graduate work at Stony Brook, I look forward to collaborating with Stony Brook, Hofstra, and others.  This program is not only going to attract new students, it’s also going to revive the innovation and entrepreneurship that Long Island needs to retain the young people who will continue to provide the social and economic energy – clean energy, of course – that our economy and neighborhoods need.

In Suffolk, the director of economic development is working with local colleges and universities on the “Train the Brain” program.  The idea is to partner schools with Long Island businesses and startups so there’s a ready-made force of employees with the talent and skills these businesses need.   Tailored curriculums provide the education you need to succeed in local firms; that may ease the transition from college to employment – right here on Long Island.  And that is the very definition of retention for our grads. 

A few days ago, President Obama announced a major expansion of Skills for America’s Future, an industry-led initiative to dramatically improve industry partnerships with community colleges and build a nation-wide network to maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs, and job placements.  Obama says the initiative could help prepare 500,000 community college students for careers in manufacturing.

Obama then announced a new initiative to boost American manufacturing. The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership will team government, industry, and higher education together to fund new technologies. The partnerships will reinvigorate the manufacturing sector in order to strengthen existing industries and spark new ones. 

The president said that evolving technology and globalization mean the U.S. must continue to invest to compete. And that is surely what Long Island must do to compete. By stitching the public and private sectors together, we can find, fund, and foster technologies and businesses. 

At the same time, let’s not forget a key piece in the retention picture:  housing.  New grads are looking for a variety of housing options, starting with apartments  – apartments that are near restaurants, transportation corridors, entertainment venues, and stores. 

Last fall, a team that included an NYIT architecture student, alumna, and faculty member won a Peoples’ Choice Award in the “Building a Better Burb” contest.  Their design – LIRR or Long Island Radically Rezoned – recognized the need for a balance between green space and high-density, mixed-used stores, houses, and offices where now there are only parking lots.  As our faculty representative said, “Sustainability is a common thread in each of our personal and professional lives.”

And so it should be for Long Island.  Yes, change is inevitable and many aspects of the Long Island we all once knew are gone forever.  But progress shouldn’t mean that we lose a central, vibrant slice – please excuse that pizza reference – of our population.

Eric Alexander, the executive director of Vision Long Island, recently spoke about the neighborhoods that are attracting the next generation – youth-oriented areas with affordable rentals and amenities.  “The young folks are speaking,” Alexander said.  “Are we listening?”

Many of you here in this room are listening.  Of course, Michael Puntillo’s Glen Cove Piazza, a mixed-use, smart growth project, and Mike Posillico’s Glen Isle project are signs of what’s possible.  The Long Island Housing Partnership has been working for years to build new affordable homes for first-time buyers – and Terri Elkowitz can share the positive results.

So you’re the right people with the vision and inspiration to keep Long Island healthy.   

If we take the right steps today, ten years from now, our college presidents need not talk about retaining talent.  Long Island will be a destination for students but it also will be a place where they can find affordable homes, plentiful jobs, and the quality of life we read about in the pages of glossy magazines. 

We want our campuses to be “idea centers” where commerce, culture, intellect and practical training converge.  Our idea centers depend on partnerships between us and you – education, business and government leaders.  The next time I visit, I hope we will be talking about the way we all joined to create an economic resurgence here on Long Island. 

Thank you, and I look forward to a discussion about our common future.