Dear Commons Community,
The New York Times has an article today based on a new study, that finds that recent graduates of SUNY Maritime College earn more than graduates of any other university in the United States. As reported:
“New York City is a college town. With no fewer than 137 institutions of higher learning, from community colleges to world-class private universities to specialized colleges like the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Juilliard School for music, there is a school for virtually every academic pursuit….Tucked away under the Throgs Neck Bridge in the Bronx is the often overlooked State University of New York Maritime College, which has become known for its strong engineering and marine transportation programs.
According to a new study, recent graduates of SUNY Maritime earn more than graduates of any other university in the United States. When Payscale.com surveyed the annual incomes of 1.4 million midcareer graduates with bachelor’s degrees, Maritime College ranked first, with an average income of $144,000, surpassing M.I.T., Harvey Mudd College and Princeton University.
The college is an unusual blend of engineering school and military academy; a majority of the students train to be merchant mariners, wearing uniforms and following a strict regimen that prohibits freshmen, for one thing, from leaving campus during the school week.
A typical cadet is Cullen Palicka, a 20-year-old junior who was raised in Manhattan and attended the Harbor School, a maritime-themed high school on Governors Island, which provided his first taste of life at sea. For Mr. Palicka, sailing on the Training Ship Empire State VI is what sets Maritime College apart from the typical college.
The navy blue ship — 565 feet long with a 32-foot draft, and weighing more than 17,000 tons — is crucial to Maritime College’s mission. Every cadet spends 45 days on it in the summers after freshman and sophomore years, then does a 90-day tour after junior year. “They are responsible for the ship’s navigation, plotting the course and powering the ship,” said Lori Shull, the director of communication at the college.
It serves as a traveling lab, replete with pumps and motors. “You’re no longer in a classroom, with a desk, chair and whiteboard,” Mr. Palicka said. “That’s our classroom.”
He said he would never forget departure day. “You’re with your friends; you see everything in motion,” he said. And for an 18-year-old raised in the Murray Hill neighborhood, sailing through the Narrows into the Atlantic was unforgettable. The ship stopped first at Charleston, S.C., then continued across the ocean, anchoring in Italy and Ireland.
But it was hardly a pleasure cruise; the days on the ship were highly structured. “You know what you’re doing every hour,” Mr. Palicka said.
The campus, between the East River and Long Island Sound, looks like a seaside town on Cape Cod, spread out over 55 acres that once housed Fort Schuyler. The population is relatively small; there were 1,635 undergraduates in fall 2016, 86 percent of them male.
Three-quarters of the students hail from the New York metropolitan area, many from Long Island. Mr. Palicka is one of the rare ones who attended a New York City high school.
“It’s a missed opportunity because of the diversity that New York City has to offer,” said Rear Adm. Michael A. Alfultis, a retired Coast Guard captain who is in his third year as the college’s president. He expects that in light of the PayScale survey, more seniors from city schools will apply.
Two types of students prevail at Maritime College: cadets and civilians. About 30 percent are civilian and live independently, dress like college students, earn bachelor’s degrees and participate in internships. The uniformed cadets lead a military lifestyle that prepares them for a structured life aboard ships. It costs $21,100 a year for civilians and $27,500 for cadets, with about 80 percent obtaining financial aid.
The school was founded in 1874 and opened to civilians in 1999. At first there was some friction between them and the cadets.
“As with any change, there is always resistance but the advantages to having civilian students far outweigh any concerns of nearly 20 years ago,” Admiral Alfultis noted. In fact, he said, it enables SUNY Maritime to recruit a “more diverse population of students who are interested in the maritime world but not necessarily in obtaining a U.S. Coast Guard license.”
Another student who is thriving is Hannah Mutum, 22, who grew up on Long Island in Franklin Square. She is a senior cadet due to graduate in May. She said she was attracted to Maritime because while she was very focused on her studies as a high school student, she also knew she “didn’t want to go to a normal college.”
Yet in her freshman year, Ms. Mutum said, she felt as if she was missing the party life her friends attending other colleges told her about. But now, she noted, “I’m the only one who has lined up a job.” She has been offered a position after graduation as an engineering assistant at Turner Construction, the firm that built the new Yankee Stadium, among many other buildings.
Most cadets earn a Coast Guard license, which enables them to work as mariners. Despite its name, the license does not require the cadet to join the Coast Guard.
In fact, the main connection to the military rests with the 10 percent of students who decide to join the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. “They’re here pursuing a commission either in the Navy or Marines,” Admiral Alfultis said.
Only 13 academic fields of student of study are offered at Maritime College, and while it’s possible to earn a degree in the humanities, by far the two most popular majors are engineering and marine transportation. “Engineering students can get a great job ashore or get a lot of money going to sea,” Admiral Alfultis said. “The few that go to sea get a very large salary because there’s such a large gap between the number of positions needed and the number of people qualified.”
Students attend two job fairs, one each semester. The next one is scheduled for Tuesday, when nearly 100 shipping companies, engineering and logistic firms, hospitals, power utilities and cruise ship operators will arrive to meet graduating seniors.
Despite the enthusiasm of these recruiters, the future of SUNY Maritime is tied to its training ship, and the Empire State VI — steam-powered and more than 50 years old — is nearing the end of its life. The ship is expected to be seaworthy until at least 2020, when it will be decommissioned.
Ms. Shull said the plan was to replace it with a state-of-the-art learning environment expected to cost $300 million. But it is up to the Trump administration and Congress to provide funding in the federal budget to approve the purchase.
“Because the ship is a federal asset, the federal government must take action to replace the ship,” Admiral Alfultis said. He said the college was pushing for a new class of high-tech vessel, what is known as a national security multimission vessel.
It would also be available to respond to disasters, as the Empire State did when it housed emergency personnel during Hurricane Sandy.
Nancy L. Zimpher, the chancellor for the SUNY system, gives Maritime College credit for planning ahead but noted that there is some anxiety about the future of the program. “Building a ship like the Empire State requires tremendous planning and foresight,” she said. “Getting funding for the next Empire State is a top priority for SUNY.”
We wish SUNY Maritime “Fair Winds and Calm Seas!”