September 21, 2009

EDITORIAL: Community college merger unwise

Clinton and North Country community colleges, each with a new president, are working toward more collaborative efforts in the education of young, old and in between in the region. Don't think that's going to culminate in an outright merger, however.

North Country President Carol Brown and Clinton chief executive John Jablonski have been in their respective jobs only months, but already they have discussed ways to save money and enhance education at their schools.

Among the efforts under way or soon to be are certain focused programs that can be taught once, at one school, instead of twice, at two. A survey was taken recently that determined that, between the two schools, workforce training had been provided to 130 local companies to upgrade the skills of their employees. For counties of this size, that is quite a claim to be able to make.

The presidents are interested in exploring other ways, too, to take advantage of their proximity of geography and need. That's good news for the taxpayers of Clinton, CCC's sponsoring county; and Essex and Franklin counties, the sponsors of NCCC.

But Jablonski doesn't believe a conventional merger would be in the best interests of either school or any of the counties, and we agree.

He was discussing the matter last week with the Press-Republican Editorial Board.

Earlier this year, some members of the Essex County Board of Supervisors had called for a study into merging the two schools as a fiscal balm to all three counties involved. Clinton County legislators didn't view the prospect favorably and noted that at least North Country obligations were split between two counties, whereas Clinton had to go it alone. State Sen. Betty Little had called for a study into merger, at the request of Essex County. The study concluded that merger would not be worthwhile.

Jablonski pointed to the well-established, unique cultures of each county and said those should not be sacrificed or diluted. "I'm not sure we could merge. And I'm not sure we'd want to even if we could."

Each school should reflect its own community, which is not a mirror image of any other. A merger of the two schools would mean one administration and one identity, which would have less of each community in its character.

The interests of saving money are crucial, of course, particularly at this point in our economic development. And community-college education has never been more important. Enrollment at Clinton is up about 13 percent this year, and Jablonski attributes that good news largely to the bad news of the economy: When times are hard, people need to broaden their opportunities.

Sharing elements of what they have is important to improving each school and saving taxpayer resources. Merging them, on the other hand, would rob each of its intimate connection with its own student and community base.