If the late New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey is remembered 42 years after his death, it is almost certainly for the famous and erroneous Chicago Tribune headline: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN a day after the 1948 presidential election won by Harry S. Truman.
Actually, the liberal Republican had many accomplishments worth remembering. He successfully prosecuted Lucky Luciano and other gangsters, as well as American Nazi leader Fritz Julius Kuhn. As governor, Dewey was an early champion of civil rights, and the New York State Thruway is named after him.
But something else he did in 1948 may well be considered his enduring legacy.
He established what is now the largest system of colleges, universities and community colleges in the country: SUNY — The State University of New York, with 64 campuses, an annual budget of $10.7 billion and an enrollment approaching half a million students.
Sometimes, when we hear high school graduates discussing where they might want to go to college, they say with almost an air of resignation, “I’m guess I’ll go to SUNY Oneonta.” Or it might be SUNY Cobleskill … or SUNY Delhi.
The whole idea of “settling for SUNY” sets our teeth on edge. The cost of going to college is too high everywhere, but the SUNY system offers outstanding value for a comparatively low in-state tuition.
Just last week, the State University College at Oneonta was ranked 36th nationwide among the top 150 best colleges for the money by College Factual, a new online site.
SUNY Oneonta’s rank reflects the institution’s academic quality and economic value, based on the cost of obtaining an undergraduate degree. Factors considered included average loan debt per student, loan default rates, how well the institution retains and graduates students, and graduates’ starting salaries and earning potential.
SUNY Oneonta spokesman Hal Legg said the school awards scholarships to one of every six students.
In our area, SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY Delhi have also received national recognition for providing a high-quality education while keeping costs down to a minimum.
This is, of course, important. The Sallie Mae “How America Pays for College” study released Tuesday reported that almost 70 percent of families wouldn’t consider some colleges because of their cost, compared with 58 percent who did that only five years ago.
In 2008, half of the families reached by the survey said they used scholarships and grants to pay for college. This year, that number went up to two-thirds of all students.
If Gov. Dewey could see the value-for-money of a SUNY education today, it would make him proud. Local students and parents should be proud of it, too.