PLATTSBURGH — On Jan. 1, 2017, Clinton Community College President Ray DiPasquale walked around the entire campus, looking at every room in every building.
“It was empty, but you got a feeling of, ‘This is a good school.’”
At its December meeting, the CCC Board of Trustees decided to offer DiPasquale a five-year contract renewal, which he signed last week.
“I have a great team of people who work here and we’re hopeful that we’re going to continue to see better days and increased enrollments and stabilized budgets and a sustainable future that will get us back to where we need to be," he said.
HOW TO FIX
When DiPasquale arrived three years ago, the college had seen 10 years straight of declining enrollment and had an unsustainable budget.
He also inherited three major construction projects: the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing, the Learning Commons and the Moore Building Renovation Project.
And retrenchments just prior to his arrival had left morale among faculty and staff low, creating uncertainty over whether the college would make it.
That sentiment was also hard to overcome within the greater community, DiPasquale said.
“So the real question was understanding, quickly, what does the college need, where are we going to go, how are we going to fix it."
CCC's Faculty Student Association (FSA), which provides auxiliary services such as bookstores, residence halls and food services, was about $1 million in debt in early 2017, DiPasquale said.
The college owed $970,000 on its dorms, which had gone from a high of 250 students living there to 30 in their last semester.
To remedy those issues, the college has since shifted from paying food service agencies to renting the kitchen out to the Twisted Pita and renegotiated its contract with Follett, the campus store operator.
And, through a deal DiPasquale brokered with Michael Carpenter of The Northeast Group, the college sold the dorms, which now house The MHAB Project, a treatment and life skills campus.
"If we had not sold them (the dorms), the FSA would have gone into bankruptcy," DiPasquale said.
He added that under his tenure, the college had to increase tuition, which it had not done in years.
Deciding not to fill the 37 vacancies that have accumulated over the past three years was one of the hardest decisions, DiPasquale said.
Some people have taken on more jobs even though they have not seen pay raises in more than four years, he added.
"They're all working extraordinarily hard to make us successful."
Recently, 13 employees decided to take advantage of an early retirement incentive, which the president said will save the college more than $300,000 in its current budget year and $1 million in the next budget year, which begins Sept. 1.
But the time has come to start filling some of the opened positions, DiPasquale said, and the college is bringing together teams to discuss which ones.
He hopes those teams can bring a list to the board by its February meeting, since they now have budget numbers and an idea of how much they can put toward new hires.
DiPasquale noted that enrollment continues to see small declines, but the college has hope for the future through new initiatives.
With the assistance of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, its President/CEO Garry Douglas and the area’s Congressional delegation, Clinton Community College has made it through the first round of applications to teach incarcerated individuals through the Second Chance Pell Grant Program.
They expect to hear whether CCC has been selected in February or March; if so, Clinton and Altona correctional facilities will be eligible.
“The goal is simple: before they’re released from prison, they get training so when they get out of prison, they get a job and ... they never go back to prison,” DiPasquale said.
The college also has an agreement with IBEW to give its electrical workers college credit for their apprenticeship programs, is launching drone and welding programs, and hopes to continue partnerships with local businesses.
DiPasquale hopes to strengthen the college’s athletics program as a recruitment and retention tool, and added that a deal with the Clinton County Sheriff's Office to provide security has saved money.
“All we really want to do is stabilize. If we can stabilize, if the second Pell grant goes through, we’ll start exceeding where we need to be and that will get us back on our feet."
DiPasquale said, everywhere he goes, people ask, "What can we do to help you?"
He spoke to the support of local business members, the chamber, the Clinton County Legislature, donors and the greater community.
“There is nowhere I’ve ever been, and I’ve worked at four colleges, where a community has been more engaged with helping a college be successful than here.
The college will close out the 2018-2019 fiscal year with a balanced budget, DiPasquale said.
“First time in five years. As we look forward to the current budget year we’re in, we’re also going to have a balanced budget at the end of this year.
“That, in itself, gives me a great feeling because we’ve stabilized our budget."
For the current fiscal year, CCC is operating on a $12,671,016 budget, making for a $1.5 million decrease from 2015-2016, the year before DiPasquale came on.
“As most people say, our vessel that was on the lake that was sinking is no longer sinking. It’s going in the right direction and there’s lots of optimism for a bright future."
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