University of the State of New York

University of the State of New York
University of the State of New York
Motto* Excelsior
"Ever upward"
Established 1784
President John B. King[citation needed]
Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch
Vice-Chancellor Milton L. Cofield
Location All over the state of New York
As explained in the text, USNY is not a "bricks and mortar" school, but an accrediting and chartering body. However, from 1971 through 1998, USNY did directly confer degrees via its Regents external degree program.
*This is the motto of the State of New York, which appears on the University Seal

The University of the State of New York (USNY, play /ˈjuːzn/) is the State of New York's governmental umbrella organization responsible for most institutions and people in any way connected with formal educational functions, public and private, in New York State. The "university" is not an educational institution in the usual sense: it is, in fact, a licensing and accreditation body that sets standards for schools from pre-kindergarten through professional and graduate school, as well as for the practice of a wide variety of professions.



The Board of Regents of the USNY was established by statute in 1784 to provide oversight to King's College – today known as Columbia University – a private institution, and other colleges and academies incorporated in the state thereafter. Originally the Board of Regents consisted of the governor, other state officers, and the mayors of New York City and Albany, plus 24 other persons who were appointed for life. This arrangement proved too unwieldy for day-to-day administration of the university, and in 1787 the legislature enacted a law that allowed individual educational institutions to have their own trustees and gave the Regents broader responsibilities for overseeing education in New York. The new law empowered the Regents to "visit and inspect all the colleges, academies, and schools" in the state, award higher academic degrees, hold and distribute funds, and exercise other powers of a corporation.

Early in the 19th century the Regents established standards for incorporating private academies and colleges, including specifying the texts or subjects that academies must teach to qualify for state aid. Aid was restricted to those students who had passed local entrance examinations. To combat the problem of academies lowering their standards in order to attract students and get state aid, during the later nineteenth century the Regents developed and instituted educational standards for high schools statewide, through use of the Regents examinations and syllabi.

The legislature gave the Regents responsibility for the New York State Library and New York State Museum in 1844 and 1845, respectively, and in 1889 and 1892 expanded the USNY's responsibilities significantly to include the incorporation and supervision of all libraries, museums, correspondence schools, and other educational institutions. An 1872 statute authorized the Regents to appoint examining and licensing boards in the state's medical schools, and in 1890 the Regents were given the exclusive power to license physicians. Also starting in 1890, the Secretary to the Board of Regents – then Melvil Dewey, also head of the State Library – supervised full-time inspectors of secondary schools, libraries, colleges, and other institutions reporting to the Regents. Starting in 1910 private trade schools were required to be licensed and inspected, and in 1923 licensing requirements were extended to correspondence schools operating in the state.

Regents College

A key former initiative of USNY, created to better bring higher education to New York State's nontraditional adult learners, was the Regents College external degree program, now the separate and independent Excelsior College. This program was an outgrowth of the practice of giving World War II veterans school and college credit in recognition of their military education and experience. In 1963 the Regents introduced College Proficiency Examinations, now called Excelsior College Examinations (ECEs), initially to help teachers and nurses complete educational requirements. First named the "Regents External Degree Program," it was established in 1971 with financial support from the Ford and Carnegie Foundations. Degrees could be granted based on a combination of college proficiency exams and classroom and correspondence courses, or on a variety of exams alone. The first degrees were conferred in 1972. This program, named Regents College in 1984, became independent of the Education Department in 1991 but continued to be governed by the Board of Regents until 1998 when it fully separated from the Board of Regents to become a private, independent college. The school adopted the name Excelsior College in 2001. Excelsior College is now a constituent member of USNY in the same way that other colleges and universities in New York State are, but it has its own charter and Board of Trustees.

Current structure and functions

The Board of Regents oversees USNY. The Board includes 17 members elected by the New York State Legislature for five-year terms. Thirteen of the Regents represent the State's 13 judicial districts (one appointed from each district), and four are at-large. The Regents serve without salary.

USNY's affiliation and oversight are very broad. As a legal technicality, USNY includes all of the state's more than 7,000 public and private elementary and secondary schools; approximately 250 public and private colleges and universities; another approximately 250 proprietary (for-profit) schools; nearly 7,000 libraries; about 750 museums; all of the state's local historical societies; and 25 public broadcasting facilities. Also included in USNY are the State Archives; a special school for the blind and another special school for the deaf; as well as vocational rehabilitation and special education services. Additionally, USNY has the affiliation of, and oversight for, more than half a million professionals practicing in 47 licensed professions, ranging from accountancy to architecture to engineering to massage therapy to hair styling, as well as 200,000 public certified school teachers, counselors, and administrators. Certain education-related institutions (such as most museums) could exist in New York State without being part of USNY; however, as an example, most museums in New York State choose to be part of USNY (i.e., be chartered by the Board of Regents) in order to obtain tax-exempt nonprofit status and other benefits.[1]

Relationship to the state education department

The New York State Constitution and state education law make the Regents the head of the New York State Education Department. The Regents select a Commissioner of Education who both runs the Education Department and is president – that is, chief executive officer – of the University. The Board of Regents also elects a chancellor, who presides over the Regents' meetings and appoints its committees.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) was created at the behest of former New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. USNY has, as a subordinate unit, NYSED, including NYSED's various administrative personnel — furthermore, the various schools, colleges, libraries, museums, teachers, etc. of USNY form constituent units of USNY, whereas NYSED forms a constituent and subordinate component of USNY.

USNY, through its Board of Regents, generally uses NYSED as a vehicle to carry out policy created by the Regents. In other words, USNY's Board of Regents generally creates policy, whereas NYSED generally administers policy. The New York State Legislature can also create some education policy; such statutory education policy would become official education policy that the Commissioner of Education would also be responsible for administering.

Regents examinations and diplomas

Regents Examinations, tests administered to high school students to demonstrate mastery of various subjects, were established by the Regents and first administered in 1865. The Regents of USNY have set standards by which students may earn various levels of Regents diplomas for high school performance.

Honorary degrees

USNY can also issue honorary degrees; the honorary degrees that can be issued come from an established list contained in Rules of the Board of Regents ("Regents Rules"). USNY also has the power to directly issue (as opposed to through some other institution) diplomas, certificates, and degrees. Today, for a variety of reasons, USNY directly issues diplomas to individuals meeting graduation requirements at several postsecondary institutions in New York State.

State University of New York

Not to be confused with USNY is the State University of New York (SUNY), which is one of New York State's systems of public higher education, the other being the City University of New York (CUNY). Like all colleges and universities in the state, the 64 SUNY and 23 CUNY campus units are all part of USNY. However, the power of SUNY and CUNY units to grant degrees exists by mandate of the State Legislature; a private college or university in New York State would be allowed to grant degrees by virtue of a charter granted by the USNY Board of Regents. No institution in New York State can call itself, per New York State law, a "college" or "university" nor award academic degrees without being chartered by NYSED and being a USNY member. Institutions in the state can, however, offer non-degree certificate programs without adhering to State requirements.




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