Erie Community College officials speak with passion and determination about their mission to prepare students for the next step, whether it is academic or employment. This region can’t have those plans advance fast enough.
The commitment to the City Campus is clear, with $25 million spent there over the last five years and a commitment to workforce training.
But the task is enormous. ECC’s programs that train workers for blue-collar jobs graduate a relative handful each year. Compare that to estimates that businesses will need as many as 2,500 such workers each year. Getting from here to there is an immense challenge for college officials.
ECC’s problems start in the Buffalo Public Schools, which is the feeder for ECC. The city graduation rate of 47 percent is, ECC President Jack Quinn Jr. said, “embarrassing. It’s almost criminal.” To improve its pool of potential students, ECC is going into city high schools, testing 10th- and 11th-graders and offering remedial help. The college is also working hand-in-hand with Say Yes to Education’s public school tuition incentive program to better prepare students.
ECC is also moving ahead with work on the long-neglected North Campus.
In May, college and county officials announced plans for a new $30 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Building at the North Campus.
Academic consultant JMZ Architects and Planners of Glens Falls told officials what they already knew about the need to improve the condition of the deteriorating campus. As William D. Reuter, the college’s chief administrative and financial officer, said, “I can’t even say it looks like a glorified high school. It looks worse than a high school.”
If all goes as planned, improvements at the North Campus should reduce the loss of students to Niagara County Community College and the “charge-back” fees it costs Erie County every time students opt for NCCC.
Even more encouraging is the simple yet clever idea of creating efficiencies by consolidating and reorganizing programs to give each campus – City, North and South – a distinct theme. And there is the governor’s START UP New York economic development plan allowing businesses to locate tax-free on college campuses. The North Campus in particular, with its vast undeveloped space, is poised to take advantage of the program.
ECC is taking important steps to prepare students for jobs or further education. Both are important to the region’s economic future. Job training will be especially important in the near term. Meeting the demand will require a quickening of the pace.