Erie community college backer reaches out to Rural Regional College
This article was originally written by Kevin Flowers and posted on GoErie.com on January 8, 2017.
The nonprofit behind efforts to create an Erie County community college has reached out to officials affiliated with the Rural Regional College of Northwestern Pennsylvania to explore the potential for collaboration between the two if the community college becomes a reality.
Erie lawyer Ron DiNicola, the president and chairman of Empower Erie, and Duane Vicini, the Rural Regional College's project executive, said officials from both groups have met to share information and talk about how the two schools might work together to benefit the region.
The Rural Regional College, which could start operating as early as this fall, was approved by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2014.
It will offer courses via live interactive technology, and professors will interact with students in classrooms and on screen from sites throughout the region, including six sites proposed in Erie County.
The school will serve Erie, Crawford, Warren, Venango, Cameron, Elk, Forest, McKean and Potter counties. Erie County was added to the list at the request of local leaders, including then-state Sen. Sean Wiley, who co-sponsored the authorizing legislation.
The Rural Regional College is designed to serve a region where there is no other community college, Vicini said.
DiNicola, however, said Empower Erie is "very interested in collaboration and finding ways to work with the rural college" on things like curriculum as the group forges its plan.
Erie County Council on Dec. 21 signed off on allocating $60,000 to study whether creating an Erie County community college is feasible. Previous efforts to organize a local community college failed for lack of a prime financial sponsor.
Empower Erie plans to hire a consulting firm familiar with community colleges to conduct the state-required feasibility study that will look at possible locations for the school; staffing requirements; community needs; accreditation; funding sources, and other factors.
The nonprofit's plan has support from the Erie Community Foundation, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and the Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy, which have contributed $300,000 toward the effort.
The Hagen Fund and ECGRA have promised an additional $3.7 million if Erie County Council ultimately votes to create a community college.
DiNicola said it is important to work with the Rural Regional College because the goal of both entities is the same — improved access to affordable education across the region and creating programs that meet the needs of the community at large and local businesses.
DiNicola stressed that Empower Erie's intent is not to compete with the Rural Community College or any other postsecondary school.
"We do not view establishment of a community college as a zero-sum game," DiNicola said. "I think that was one of the pitfalls of the previous (community college) effort. We want to have an open dialogue with the other institutions. We know there are things that the rural college can bring to the region that are significant and important."
Vicini said he expects conversations between Rural Regional College officials and Empower Erie to continue. The groups first met in November at the Erie Community Foundation.
DiNicola and Erie County Councilman Andre Horton, an Erie County community college supporter, attended that meeting.
"We will talk with all institutions that can possibly come together for the betterment of the population. We'll always be agreeable to that," Vicini said.
The Rural Regional College proposes offering courses at the Erie County Technical School in Summit Township; the Corry Higher Education Council and Corry Area School District; Central Career and Technical School, Erie; Harbor Creek School District, and Girard School District.
Courses to be offered will include general education subjects and career training. In a recent survey, potential students, employers and others listed course interests including health sciences; science, technology, engineering and math; human services; manufacturing; architecture; construction; agriculture; food, and natural resources.
The rural college is reviewing applications and hopes to hire a president by the end of February.
The community college feasibility study and a strategic plan for launching the school could be completed by the end of June. Empower Erie has hired Roy A. Church, retired president of Lorain County Community College, near Cleveland, to help develop its plans.
"The community college role is to be a collaborator with whatever other entities are involved in meeting the needs of the community," Church said. "Create synergy that meets the most need in a cost effective way. ... It's not a competitive model. It's a collaborative model."
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