New SUNY chancellor says public school “saved” his life

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Dr. John King used to be the commissioner of education in New York. He was one of Barack Obama’s education secretaries, now he’s running one of the largest public university school systems in the country.

“I believe deeply in the importance of public education. It saved my life as a kid,” King said. “Both my parents passed away before I was 12. The thing that saved me was public school. Great public school educators who invested in me. And SUNY is a transformative force in the lives of students and I’m excited to help continue that tradition.”

King takes over a school system that, over the last decade, has seen an enrollment drop of more than 108,000 students.

Brean: “What’s going on there? Where is everybody going?”

King: “There are a few elements. One is – there are parts of the state that have lost population.”

King says a good market means some people go straight into a job and there are two million New Yorkers with some college, but no degree.

King: “We’ve got to work hard to get those students to come back.”

Brean: “Is part of your job to increase enrollment?”

King: “Absolutely. And to increase completion. We’ve got to make sure that student’s don’t just start but finish.”

King is the 15th chancellor of SUNY. I asked him about changes he’s going to make.

Brean: “How about a change in the short term that people will notice?”

King: “One thing we’re already working on is for students who might not get into their first choice school to know what other options they might have in the SUNY system.”

Brean: “And how is that going to work?”

King: “Well once the student finds out they haven’t gotten into their first choice school, we will be able to convey to them that there’s a program that has similar elements, that is available on another campus.”

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Since I asked the chancellor about a change he’s making, I asked a SUNY student what change she wants to see.

Brean: “If you had the power to change one thing about SUNY and the experience, what would you do?”
Felicia Amoafo Kumi, SUNY Brockport senior, student government president: “More time to look into the mental health of students.”

Felicia Amoafo Kumi was born in Africa, raised in New York city and now she’s a senior at SUNY Brockport and president of the student government.

“We have counseling centers and massage chairs and other stuff,” she said. “But I think we need, the mental health of students needs to be taken more seriously.”

In the fall, SUNY announced $24 million for new mental health help on campuses.