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The plan to stabilize SUNY Erie Community College

“We're in a position where we have to take action,” said SUNY Erie President Dr. David Balkin.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The struggles of Erie Community College, ECC, or SUNY Erie, as it is now known, are well known across most of Western New York. As their new budget comes up for a vote in the Erie County Legislature however the latest plan to stabilize the college is getting more attention from lawmakers.

Righting the ship will be a challenging proposition, according to newly appointed President Dr. David Balkin. But after years without action and redundancies across three campuses, he says action is needed now.

"This isn't a reflection of anything external, these are internal issues that should have been addressed years ago," said Dr. Balkin.

The college's 2022-2023 proposed budget totals $98.6 million and includes plans to increase tuition by 3%, eliminate college programs with low demand, and lay off around 100 employees over the next two months.

“The challenge here and the thing that makes this so hard is recognizing we're having to remove people from the college that have committed their lives to this place,” Balkin said.

Despite a $2.5 million retirement incentive fund set aside by the county, Balkin said fewer employees from the AEECC and FFECC unions took the offer than expected; about $1.5 million worth. He said there may be an opportunity to provide the same incentive for the two other unions on campus, but if additional employees don't take the offer around 100 people could be let go starting at end of June.

When asked about consolidating the three SUNY Erie campuses, North, South, and City. Balkin responded, "currently we're not focused on cutting campuses. We're always going to be contracting or expanding our footprint depending on what local student demand is."

Erie County Legislator Joe Lorigo (R) said he asked a similar question when Balkin presented the proposed budget to lawmakers Thursday. It was then put out for public comment and a hearing was held that same evening but no one from the public spoke.

“I don't think we can eliminate everything at South campus altogether. I think that would be a disservice to southern Erie County residents but we need to look at every possibility to ensure we're doing the best thing we possibly can to make sure Erie Community College still exists 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now,” Lorigo said.

In the last decade, SUNY Erie's enrollment has dropped 50%. A similar trend has occurred across higher education nationwide, but when SUNY Erie has to spread its resources across three campuses, "it hinders us from being able to do things in a cost-effective way," said Balkin.

The plan is to ditch duplicate positions Balkin explained, that are found on each campus, such as department heads and Deans of Students. More classes will also be moved to North Campus and portions of South Campus will be leased out to local partners.

“With such a shrinking of student body, I think it's appropriate to have some duplications omitted,” said Amherst Legislator Jeanne Vinal.

Despite these changes, Balkin believes SUNY Erie remains a good investment that more students seeking higher education, nursing, or automotive skills, which are two of the college’s most in-demand programs,  should consider.

"It's a phenomenal school if you look around and see the number of people who have had phenomenal careers and our region because of SUNY Erie it's staggering,” Balkin said.

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