09/03/2013 03:11 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2013

A New Vision for Affordable and Quality Higher Education Requires Leadership, Collaboration

President Obama just did American students, educators, and businesses a favor. He made access to an affordable college education a national priority, and for that historic focus he deserves great credit.

While some have questioned whether college is even necessary any longer, the data show access to higher education is more important than ever. In New York alone, current projections are that by 2025, the workforce needs of the state will require one million more college graduates than it we are currently producing. This, in the face of mounting student loan debt and rising college costs that are narrowing access to higher education.

Two State University of New York campuses were chosen as the symbolic backdrop to launch President Obama's new policy initiative because New York has the ideas and capacity to help develop and scale nationally the president's vision for American higher education.

New York's public higher education system is a leader in controlling college costs and is by any measure one of the great bargains in the country. We have already laid much of the foundation needed to see the president's vision through.

SUNY has partnered with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to put in place state policies like rational tuition, which allows our students to plan for the cost of their education and comes with a no-budget-cut promise from the state; and STARTUP-NY, which positions our campuses as tax-free destinations for new businesses, offering unique opportunities for our students and spurring job growth. We have worked together to enact performance-based funding, form public-private partnerships, and massively expand online education.

But one state alone cannot shape the future of higher education. It is imperative that colleges and universities across the country band together to begin acting like the world's premier system of public higher education.

President Obama has challenged higher education to increase access and affordability at a critical time when our country needs it the most. Now we need leadership from policymakers and educators across the nation to take a long, hard look at the countless innovative programs at work across the country that are making college more affordable without sacrificing quality - and to replicate the best of the best.

In higher education and statehouses alike, we must all get out of our comfort zones and work together to create a national strategy - not a federal strategy - that will implement innovative solutions that benefit students, their families, and ultimately all of us.