GCC president says more info needed from governor on ‘free college’
ALBION – Dr. James Sunser, president of Genesee Community College, held off on a ringing endorsement for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan for free college tuition at state universities and community colleges.
“We’re still lacking a lot of details about the program,” Sunser told Orleans County legislators last week. “Philosophically I’m in favor of anything that could provide assistance to students that need it the most.”
Sunset, in his meeting with the County Legislature in Albion, addressed Cuomo’s “Excelsior Scholarship” proposal, which would require students to be enrolled at a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year college full-time. The initiative would cover middle class families and individuals making up to $125,000 through a supplemental aid program.
Currently 80 percent of NY households statewide make $125,000 or less with an estimated 940,000 households having college-aged children that would be eligible for the program, Cuomo said.
The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019, according to the governor’s proposal.
Currently for community colleges the tuition is covered is a formula that aimed to have one third funding each from the state, the student and the student’s home county. However, Sunser said the state share has lagged and students are picking up about 40 percent of the cost.
GCC’s annual cost of $3,950 “is the most affordable higher education in the Western New York,” Sunser told legislators.
The college is based in Batavia, but has campus centers in Albion, Medina, and two each in Wyoming and Livingston counties.
The total enrollment for the college in the fall was 6,141 students, with 766 in Orleans.
Sunser said many community colleges, including GCC, hit peak enrollments in 2010-11, when the economy was struggling and high schools were graduating larger classes. The federal government also provided stimulus funding for people to return to college for training.
Since then, unemployment has dropped, the high school class sizes have shrunk and there isn’t stimulus funding for retraining.
GCC’s enrollment has dipped, but Sunser said the college has maintained the same full-time teaching staff. The college didn’t increase full-time staff during the boom years.
The GCC president said 2017 is a big year for Genesee Community College, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and will be opening two new facilities in Batavia.
The 18,478-square-foot Student Success Center will be a two-story facility connecting to the existing Conable Technology Building through a second story bridge. It will become the new “front door” of the Batavia Campus partially enclosing the GCC’s central academic quad.
That building is expected to be substantially complete in early June and will be a one-stop service center for students and community residents, providing admissions, financial aid, academic advisement, job and career counseling and a variety of other services in one building.
GCC also is building a new event center, the Richard C. Call Arena, that will include the largest open public space in the four GLOW counties.
Located adjacent to the Soccer and Lacrosse Turf Field at the far west side of campus, the 56,614 square foot facility will not only accommodate an array of athletic competitions, but all kinds of civic, community, trade, industry as well as college events-from farm, boat and tractor shows to commencement ceremonies where a whole family can sit together.
The new facility is expected to draw as many as 500,000 visitors to the campus each year, GCC officials said.