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Erie Community College unveils 'ECC Excels' initiative

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Erie Community College has introduced a strategic blueprint it hopes will secure more funding and allow it to become more competitive and a bigger player in Buffalo's economic redevelopment.

Known as ECC Excels, the initiative tackles enrollment, funding and infrastructure concerns and is designed to help the school better develop a local workforce.

School officials went before the Erie County Legislature's Community Enrichment Committee on Thursday to detail the plan. 

"There's no doubt in my mind that ECC is an underappreciated jewel," said Legislator Kevin Hardwick, who chairs the committee which oversees ECC matters. "We have something special here. In this economic renaissance that we're seeing in Buffalo, it plays an integral role."

But Hardwick and lawmakers from both political parties share the belief that ECC is underfunded. For two years in a row, ECC has addressed shortfalls by raising tuition by $300. The ECC Excels plan asks for $4 million in operating costs and a total $25 million over five years for capital needs.

School officials feel they've been underfunded not only by Erie County but also by New York State, which has pumped millions of dollars into the University at Buffalo for economic projects as part of the Buffalo Billion. ECC president Jack Quinn and others believe ECC Excels gives them a strategy that can help bring more dollars from Albany.

"The county is not our only funding source here," Quinn said. "In addition to tuition, it's the State of New York. And frankly, they've been a little bit lax in what they've done for our college and others. The information that's here, which we're talking of unveiling it in the county legislature, it's going to be a tool for us to go to a lot of different places and a lot of different levels."

The school would like to open a nursing school downtown. Currently, ECC must pay $1.7 million in annual chargebacks because Erie County nursing students are attending Niagara County Community College. ECC is also interested in building a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Building on its North Campus in Williamsville.

The $300 tuition hikes over the past two years could have been worse, say school officials.

"What we would have had is a $700 tuition increase last year, had we not gone to our fund balance and used $4 million," said ECC Board of Trustees president Steve Boyd. "We're still putting $300 on the backs of our students. We can't keep doing that."

School officials were quick to acknowledge the unions that they say have been a good partner in the crafting of ECC Excels. The initiative includes an operational goal of settling outstanding labor contracts with "win-win" agreements.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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