Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R, C, I - Schoharie), Senator James Seward (R, C, I - Oneonta) and representatives from SUNY Cobleskill, including college President Donald Zingale and Dr. Pamela Colony, who is the director of the only histotechnology program in the state, joined together with graduates of the program and area business leaders today to announce the reactivation of the college’s histotechnology program and highlight the event as a call for greater public-private cooperation in meeting critical workforce training needs in the region and across NYS.
A loophole in state law, which omitted specific testing for histologists, prevented professionals in this field from being recognized and practicing in the state. This led to the histotech program at Cobleskill becoming inactive for one year; however, after being notified of this loophole by Dr. Pamela Colony, Assemblyman Lopez worked with Senator Seward and their colleagues in the Legislature, as well as with the State Department of Health and the State Education Department to advance legislation that modified state the credentialing requirements to recognize histotechs. Passage of the bill and its signing into law (Chapter 204 of the Laws of 2008) led directly to the reopening of SUNY Cobleskill’s program in the fall of 2009.
“The specialized field of histotechnology is an important industry in our region. If this loophole had not been closed, not only would costs rise for our local hospitals that would have to send specimens out of state, but many jobs would be lost. Saving this program, and the opportunities for the program’s graduates, is a critical example of how government needs to work closely with the private sector to address employment and training needs,” said Assemblyman Lopez, who brought the issue before his colleagues from both sides of the aisle and was instrumental in getting the bill moved through the legislative process.
“SUNY Cobleskill provides a unique learning environment that produces highly sought after graduates,” said Senator Seward. “In order to ensure students continue to receive the type of education that translates to real-life job skills it is vital that government officials, educators and business leaders stand together as partners. Knocking down regulatory barriers is essential and I am proud to have helped in that regard, clearing the way for a bright future for the histotechnology program.”
SUNY Cobleskill’s Histotechnology Program is the oldest in the country, and is the only program in New York. It is also one of the largest in the United States, admitting up to 16 people per year. The program specifically trains students to preserve tissue and prepare microscopic slides for pathologists to permit patient diagnosis and treatment. Students can either receive an AAS with the Histotechnology option or a bachelor’s in Animal Science with the Histotechnology option. In both cases, this program requires extensive field experience with students completing a 400-hour internship at one of the 15 affiliate hospitals around the state.
Upon graduation, this specialized field offers many important job opportunities for SUNY graduates, including at area hospitals and other health care institutions. SUNY Cobleskill’s program has seen 100 percent placement of its graduates due to the advanced training and the national shortage of histologists.
“The omission for specific testing of histologists was a major issue,” said Colony, Director of SUNY Cobleskill’s Histotechnology program, who was instrumental in working with lawmakers. “Graduates could not practice in New York State, even though they were eligible for national certification.”
“We are pleased to see the reactivation of the Histotechnology Program at SUNY Cobleskill. The students, upon graduation, are well prepared to contribute vital services to the healthcare systems of the area,” said Victoria Spoon, Anatomic Pathology Manager of M.I. Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown, N.Y., an affiliate hospital of SUNY Cobleskill’s program. “Bassett employs many of the programs graduates, and looks forward to a continued affiliation with the program and its students in the future.”
During the press conference, Assemblyman Lopez, Senator Seward, SUNY administration and business leaders stressed that the events surrounding the histotechnology credentialing were representative of a broader need for closer communication and the development of strategic partnerships across NYS. Chief among these examples was discussion of Global Foundries, and the needs of the company to hire as many as 1200 highly skilled / technically trained individuals capable of supporting computer chip fabrication at the new site in Luther Forest (Saratoga County). The Center for Economic Growth (CEG) and other economic development interests have been working with SUNY, community colleges and private universities to assess the challenges and opportunities associated with meeting the near-term employment needs. Additionally, they have begun to engage the Legislature and the Governor’s Office to develop a long term strategy which will continue to provide NYS graduates with the technical skills needed to find employment with such companies as Global Foundries and General Electric who are currently ramping up production to meet changing world demand for products and services.
“With the current and future demands for a highly technical workforce, students of the program will be in an advantageous position upon graduation,” said Michael Tucker, President of the Center for Economic Growth. “As Tech Valley’s regional economic development organization, the Center for Economic Growth is working to stimulate transformational change. CEG is excited to see SUNY Cobleskill working to contribute to the high-tech skilled workforce pipeline that Upstate New York is in need of now more than ever.”
“With SUNY Cobleskill offering one of the largest and most specialized training programs of its kind within the United States, it certainly sets our community apart from others. This skilled workforce pipeline is an asset we will leverage,” commented Alicia Terry, Director Schoharie County Planning & Development Agency.
“It is so encouraging to see the positive effect of partnerships that are working and that the histotechnology program has been reinstituted at SUNY Cobleskill,” added Jodi Rutt, Executive Director of the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce. “Being able to offer this type of much needed specialized training and to be able to license those workers in the State of New York helps us to encourage students to stay in the state when they graduate and allows medical businesses the convenience of obtaining these services locally. The reinstitution of this program is a definite ‘win’ for the workforce and businesses not only in Schoharie County, but for the entire State of New York.”
The ability of local colleges, universities and schools of technology to support local businesses and emerging technologies was further emphasized during the presentation, with special attention given to a proposal currently before the State Legislature which would offer SUNY and its individual campuses more flexibility in tailoring programs to meet specific workforce training objectives, as part of their overall educational program. Dubbed “The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act”, the proposal has been hailed by SUNY and the Governor’s Office as a sweeping reform package that would provide SUNY and CUNY the flexibility they need to become centers of job creation.
“We are so pleased that, once again, Assemblyman Lopez and Senator Seward have brought 'added value' to our region,” said Dr. Donald Zingale, President of SUNY Cobleskill. “In championing SUNY Cobleskill's Histotechnology efforts, Peter and Jim have supported the diversification of our academic offerings while also helping us to fill a niche that will enhance the health professions regionally and statewide.”
“We have seen SUNY’s mission continue to evolve in this direction, and while we must maintain its primary focus on quality, affordable education, the linkage to job creation and job retention cannot be denied,” said Assemblyman Lopez. “We have a collective obligation to strengthen that linkage if we are to offer real employment opportunities and sustain our economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.”
“Our SUNY schools are proven educational leaders and have always served as one our state’s greatest assets,” said Senator Seward. “We must continue to support our campuses and take new and innovative approaches at developing the programs that make them extraordinary. Our prospects for the future in New York hinge greatly on the success of our SUNY schools. I look forward to fostering this cooperative relationship that will help our students shine, our colleges excel and our economies grow.”