News & Insights

Getting ‘A-Quaintanced’ with Sullivan Higher Education

When news that SUNY Sullivan President Karin Hilgerson would vacate her post reached New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office last spring, the community college received the kind of phone call the NYS Assistant Secretary of Education would place to any institution at such a crossroads.

A call about the future.

How does SUNY Sullivan envision preparing students and the community for unprecedented opportunity Sullivan County hadn’t experienced in decades?

• Construction of the $1.3 billion Montreign gambling resort was well underway near Monticello.
• Catskill Regional Medical Center green lighted plans for an Urgent/Primary Care facility on Route 42.
• The $90 million Veria Lifestyle Wellness Resort project had broken ground just off Anawana Lake Road.
• Workforce Development and the NYS Department of Labor were co-hosting the first mid-winter Job Fair in almost a decade.

Dialogue with SUNY Sullivan Trustees intrigued then-NYS Assistant Secretary of Education Jay Quaintance. So much so, he decided to vie for the role himself.

Responsible for shaping and implementing Statewide P-12 and Higher Education budget and policy decisions since September 2014, Quaintance missed being on campus. He missed being directly involved with day-to-day operations as he had been in his early career in New York’s Capital district and his home state of New Mexico.

“I was eager to apply what I had learned,” he said, “to take a college with a great history to the next level, in a
community that’s moving to the next level.”

Rethinking Community College

“The role of community colleges in a community and educational context is being rethought,” said Quaintance. “We are strengthening traditional college, lifelong learning and workforce development educational pathways.”

Community colleges are, in many cases, “the first and last stop for postsecondary education.”

Students interested in going straight into the workforce may pursue a certificate or associate level degree. SUNY Sullivan convenes an advisory committee of local employers twice yearly to help shape curriculum to ensure coursework prepares students with necessary skills for employment.

Case in point: Representatives from all levels of Catskill-Regional Medical Center, The Center for Discovery, Orange Regional Medical Center, Sullivan County Adult Care Center and a half dozen more health care industry partners inform the nursing program to include clinical rotations, patient interaction, experience with equipment on which to be trained.

For students pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, community college is a transfer institution. SUNY Sullivan’s ties to individual colleges and SUNY system schools ensure students can transfer with full junior status upon completing an associate’s degree.

At the high school level, SUNY Sullivan has bolstered partnerships with Sullivan School District guidance counselors to forge educational pathways for students, and encourage enrollment or dual enrollment. High school students can access college-level coursework while completing high school.

Quaintance commends Sullivan County schools on boosting high school completion rates and rising GPAs.

“It used to be enough that finishing high school would get you a job,” he said. “Students must recognize rigorous coursework, taking as much math and science as you can help ensure a seamless transition to college or the workplace as possible.”

For the community, the college is also a place to enjoy broadcasts of The Metropolitan Opera performing live from Lincoln Center. A place to tool along a new bike path (project underway) that extends Hurleyville cycling trails on campus. A place to go fly a kite with roughly 200 community members on Kite Day, traditionally held May 5th.

SUNY Sullivan: Building a Qualified Workforce

As the only college of higher education in Sullivan County, SUNY Sullivan is one of two key training partners of the County’s Center for Workforce Development.

“Together with BOCES Adult Education, the college provides paths for people who may be at the low-end of the education scale,” said Workforce Development Center Director Laura Quigley. “Residents may start at BOCES and then flow to the college level.”

The college is expanding initiatives in hospitality and healthcare, two industries where Sullivan’s long-standing reputation intersect with in-county economic growth. SUNY Sullivan is working closely with the Center for Workforce Development, the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development and local business to create a hospitality industry training
institute, and career pathways. A Casino Operations Surveillance Course launched in March will be offered as part of two different certificate tracks, and a casino related associate degree will launch this fall. SUNY Sullivan is developing curriculum.

Workforce Development provides a snapshot of population and business needs, and provides financial support for training.

“I knew Jay before he came to SUNY Sullivan,” said Quigley. “I’m very excited someone who knows how to link skills training is here.”

The Montreign project estimates scaling up, by early 2019, to 2,200 employees across the resort casino, hotel, shops, restaurants, nightclub, indoor water park and golf course. By contrast, the booming bygone era of the western Catskills saw the Concord Resort Hotel employ 1,000 culinary professionals in the kitchen alone.

Montreign’s website calls for applicants in Administration, Customer Service, Finance & Accounting, Food & Beverage, Hotel Services, Housekeeping, Human Resources & Training, Information Technology, Marketing, Operations and Security.

“Customer service and hospitality skills are important to every business,” said Quaintance. He cites the film tax credit as an incentive to attract new industries to the county.

“People are more optimistic now than even when I first arrived here,” Quaintance said. There’s a sense of Yeah, we’re ready for this.”