The New York State system of higher education has been shaped by a combination of factors, pressures, and strong personalities, bearing the imprint of two activist governors, Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson A. Rockefeller, a sympathetic legislative leadership in both parties, and several outstanding committees and commissions that have helped develop new policies. In 1948 the New York State Legislature and Governor Thomas E. Dewey established the State University of New York (SUNY), with twenty-nine existing teachers colleges, institutes, and special colleges providing a nucleus for the new institution. The state also voted funds for the first time to provide minimal support for the New York City municipal colleges, which later became the City University of New York (CUNY). By 1973 the state and city university systems had become the first and third largest systems of higher education in the country. Although in 1948 public higher education in New York was conceived simply as a supplement to the state's 138 private colleges, by 1973 the percentage of students in private colleges had dropped from 70 to 40 percent. Moreover, the precarious financial shape of the private institutions raised serious doubts as to whether they could continue to be a viable alternative to public higher education. Private colleges were relying more and more on federal and state aid, and thus there was a growing tendency to look at both systems as related resources of the state.
The major issues affecting higher education can be considered in four periods. From 1948 to 1949, SUNY was established, community colleges gained a foothold, and the state recognized the need for financial support of New York City's municipal colleges. The second period,