By Bernice Radle and Greg Conley
Prior to the release of a study concluding Erie Community College should expand its North Campus in Amherst, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz happily presented its results.
But, did he read the study?
Consider the following fact from the study: Forty-seven percent of ECC students live in the City of Buffalo.
The study points out that the City Campus is still the smallest of ECC’s three-campus system and, due to its limited programs, serves only 25 percent of ECC’s students.
If this inequity between city and suburban campuses is not a subtle, but very real, form of racial and economic discrimination, what is?
Poloncarz would have taxpayers believe that the North Campus expansion is for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, but the study reveals this is spin. Seven of 10 programs at the proposed $30 million facility would be in health-related fields, not STEM: anatomy and physiology, biology, biomanufacturing, medical lab technology, medical assisting, nursing and respiratory care.
These health sciences programs belong near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where access to internships, job opportunities and public transit are abundant, not eight miles away on Youngs Road.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, more than 50 percent of health sciences workers in the United States are trained at community colleges, so why is Erie Community College playing no direct role in the development of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus?
The Medical Campus will not be able to compete globally without stronger links to the community college system. ECC’s expansion is an opportunity to shift its health sciences programs to the City Campus, where the college can leverage investments in the University at Buffalo’s new Medical School, bolster the region’s fastest-growing job sector, and better advance its stated mission of “providing access to all.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gets it. His administration’s investment in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is helping reforge Buffalo’s economy, with more than 2,000 jobs created since 2011 and another 5,000 jobs on the way by 2017. Poloncarz does not need to hide behind a flawed study; common sense alone says that this success should be supported.
Buffalo can no longer afford to squander once-in-a-generation opportunities. Any growth in ECC facilities should be centered where both the need and the return on investment is greatest – the City Campus.
Bernice Radle and Greg Conley are co-chairmen of Young Citizens for ECC.