CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras delivered his 2021 State of the University System address virtually on Tuesday.

This, as local SUNY schools, gear up to start the new semester next week with pandemic precautions in place.

Malatras says the 64 campuses will continue efforts to confront COVID-19, and promote social, economic and racial justice. 

“We must expand opportunities for hundreds of thousands for individuals who find themselves unemployed or underemployed or helping them to learn new skills to find the jobs of the new economy like combatting climate change or improving healthcare,” Malatras said.

Malatras says that SUNY has work to do to make sure faculty and leadership is reflective of its diverse student body. He also says the pandemic has “exposed” challenges, especially when it comes to enrollment and applications. Earlier this week Malatras wrote on the Empire Report that SUNY’s applications are down 20 percent this year. He says SUNY will work to be more inclusive, reach out to underserved communities as well as active military service members, and working parents.  “Too many current and prospective students do not think we are reflective of their communities and they are right,” he said.

United University Professions President Fred Kowal welcomed the ideas Malatras laid out today and has some additional ideas for attracting the “non-traditional student.”

“What is necessary is the creation of a GI bill. And that is for all those workers who have been on the front lines in delivery services, driving buses, sanitation workers, there are so many New Yorkers who have had to continue to work throughout this pandemic. We believe that they should have a free SUNY education,” Kowal said.

The state legislature is holding a budget hearing on higher education next Thursday.