State University of New York's 64 geographically dispersed campuses bring educational opportunity to virtually all New Yorkers and comprise the nation’s largest comprehensive system of public higher education. Founded in 1948, with the consolidation of 29 state-operated but unaffiliated institutions, the state university has grown to a point where its impact is felt educationally, culturally and economically the length and breadth of the state.

More than 467,000 students are pursuing traditional study in classrooms and laboratories or are working at home, at their own pace, through such innovative institutions as the SUNY Learning Network and Empire State College, for more than 25 years a leader in non-traditional education, distance learning, and assessment of prior learning. The state university’s students are predominantly New York State residents. They also come from every other state in the United States, from four U.S. territories or possessions, and from 160 foreign countries. The university passed a major milestone in the mid-1980s when it graduated its one-millionth alumnus, and currently numbers 2.7 million graduates on its rolls.

The state university enrolls close to 40 percent of all New York State high school graduates, and its total enrollment is more than 467,000 (full-time and part-time). Because of its structure and comprehensive programs, the state university offers students a wide diversity of educational options: short-term vocational/technical courses, certificate programs, baccalaureate degrees, graduate degrees, and post-doctoral studies. The university offers access to almost every field of academic or professional study somewhere within the system—more than 7,000 programs of study overall.

As part of the university’s commitment to bring to the students of New York the very best and brightest scholars, scientists, artists, and professionals, the state university’s distinguished faculty is recruited from the finest graduate schools and universities throughout the United States and many countries around the world, and includes nationally and internationally recognized figures in all the major disciplines. Their efforts are regularly recognized in numerous prestigious awards and honors, including the Nobel Prize.

The state university’s research contributions are helping to solve some of today’s most urgent problems. At the same time, contracts and grants received by university faculty directly benefit the economic development of the regions in which they are located. State university researchers pioneered nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and the supermarket bar code scanner, introduced time-lapse photography of forestry subjects, isolated the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and developed the first implantable heart pacemaker. Other university researchers continue important studies in such wide-ranging areas as breast cancer, immunology, marine biology, sickle-cell anemia, and robotics, and make hundreds of other contributions, inventions, and innovations for the benefit of society.

The university’s program for the educationally and economically disadvantaged, consisting of Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP) and Educational Opportunity Centers (EOC), has become a model for delivering better learning opportunities to young people and adults traditionally bypassed by higher education.

The 30 locally sponsored two-year community colleges operating under the program of the state university offer local citizens programs that are directly and immediately job-related as well as degree programs that serve as job-entry educational experience or a transfer opportunity to a baccalaureate degree at a senior campus.

In 1998, the governor and the legislature approved a multiyear, $2 billion capital construction program for the university. This investment in critical maintenance will protect the university’s infrastructure, valued at nearly $11 billion, and enable the university to keep pace with modern technology for the benefit of its students and faculty. As a public university, the State University of New York has a special responsibility to make its rich and varied resources accessible to all.

In 1995, the board of trustees developed the document Rethinking SUNY, in response to a call from the legislature for a “multiyear, comprehensive system wide plan to increase cost efficiency.” Underlying Rethinking SUNY is the theme of increasing efficiency by empowering campuses to manage directly more of their academic and financial affairs and by eliminating disincentives to the prudent use of campus and system resources.

In 2010, the university launched The Power of SUNY, a strategic plan that calls for the system's campuses to lead New York's economic revitalization through such innovations as increased entrepreneurial opportunities, an urban-rural teacher corps, more distance learning, and a health care report, SUNY Scale, that would document progress in combating obesity or chronic illnesses. The university’s economic development services programs provide research, training and technical assistance to the state’s business and industrial community through Business and Industry Centers, the New York State Small Business Development Center, the Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence, Rural Services Institutes, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, Technical Assistance Centers, Small Business Institutes, Centers for Advanced Technology, and international development.

State University of New York is governed by a board of trustees, appointed by the governor, which directly determines the policies to be followed by the 34 state-supported campuses. Community colleges have their own local boards of trustees whose relationship to the state university board is defined by law.

The university’s motto is “To Learn, To Search, To Serve.”