Joel Giambra says “98 percent of the curriculum” at Erie Community College and Niagara County Community College is identical -- and that’s one of the reasons the former Erie County executive is pushing the state to force a merger between the two colleges.
“The two institutions for years have been in a very competitive mode as opposed to a collaborative mode, and what they're doing is competing for the same students in the same geographic marketplace,” Giambra says.
He thinks this idea could stick where others failed because ECC is in a financial crisis after the retirement of President Jack Quinn and NCCC is still reeling from scandals uncovered by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team that led to the resignation of President James P. Klyczek.
“The fact that both institutions are without a president right now gives us an opportunity that might not have been there under normal conditions,” Giambra says.
Erie County Legislator Pat Burke says a merger is an idea worth considering, especially since enrollment at ECC is expected to decrease for at least the next decade.
“To invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a community college structure that is no longer functional in the next 10 years doesn't make a lot of sense to me,” Burke says. “So if the sensible thing is to merge and have a singular Erie Niagara Community College system that saves a ton of money and is more functional, that's something I think we should explore.”
Leaders, though, know these colleges employ hundreds of people -- many with political connections -- and cutting those types of redundant jobs won't be easy.
As Giambra put it, “Both of these institutions, unfortunately, have become patronage dumping grounds.”
That's why he says if a new Buffalo Niagara Community College is to be created, it's probably going to take involvement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“These kinds of consolidations have to happen from the top down or they're not going to happen,” Giambra says. “Hopefully the state will ask both institutions to take a time-out and begin to force them to the table to discuss ways by which to bring this merger about.”
The board president at NCCC was not available to speak Monday about a possible merger and Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.