Keegan talks on day 1 as NCCC president

Joe Keegan, the new North Country Community College president, gives an interview Monday in his office in Hodson Hall. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

SARANAC LAKE — Summer was in full force Monday on Joe Keegan’s first day as North Country Community College’s new president as he discussed himself and the college.

Asked what his presidential legacy might be, he though a while before answering, “that we laid the groundwork effectively for the next 50 years of the college.” That’s what George Hodson, the college’s first president did, Keegan said.

“Dr. Hodson, whom this hall is named after, had a vision, and those early founders … they had a vision that this college could be a place where people could learn, could hear a concert, could watch a play, could enrich their lives, and they created a culture that we tried to tend to for 50 years. So I think that if in the time I’m afforded to be in this job, we can continue to advance that foundation for the next 50 that would be great.”

It’s just over 30 years since Keegan graduated from the community college before getting a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at SUNY Potsdam. Since them, he has taught at NCCC, worked as a vice president, and now is the top person in charge of it.

Keegan said he was grateful to be where he is now and hopes to give others the opportunities he was offered ever since he was asked to attend the school by some of its North Country faculty while he was waiting tables in Saranac Lake.

One of Keegan’s goals is to reach out and attract demographics that might be new or not as focused upon to increase enrollment numbers.

Two new courses will be offered in the fall at Akwesasne — a course on Windows-based software and another on English composition — to draw in students from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Those students will have the opportunity to continue their education at NCCC the following semester. If it works, the school will offer more courses at Akwesasne in the spring.

The school has also focused on increasing enrollment by increasing outreach to adult learners and changing its schedule to give adult learners more flexibility, adding more courses that are seven-and-a-half weeks long instead of the standard 15. According to a press release from the school earlier this month, 80% of the school’s total enrolled students are adult learners. Keegan hopes that with a new full-time enrollment recruiter of adult learners, and a new learning schedule that would cut a student’s time to an associate’s degree by six months, the number of adult learners at the school will continue to grow.

Keegan said the key to finding programs that will draw students and funding comes down to one factor — relationships.

Keegan said one element of his job he is still not comfortable with yet is fundraising for the college’s foundation.

“That’s not something I’ve ever really had experience in doing, fundraising, at all,” Keegan said.

But at a meeting for the SUNY Conference of Advancement Directors last week, Keegan dipped his toe in the fundraising pool, and it was not as uncomfortable as he thought it was going to be.

“You can ask people for money, and it can feel kind of usury, you know, and what they talked about is your relationship. You’re establishing relationships with people, and you’re not asking them to give to things that don’t match your value system, and I’m like, ‘I can get behind that,'” Keegan said.

One of the big challenges will be getting capital funding to renovate the Saranac Lake campus. It is currently working on getting funding for its master plan, a group of construction and rehabilitation projects that could cost from $31 million to $36 million. It would need approval and funding from Franklin and Essex counties as well as the state.

No new buildings have been built on the Saranac Lake campus since 1977 or 1978, and the most recent building built on any of its three campuses was in the 2000s in Ticonderoga. Several of the buildings have not been renovated or rehabilitated since the birth of the campus. A $1.1 million grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York that was secured by state Sen. Betty Little, will bring some of the science labs in the Saranac Lake campus to the 21st century, something it’s in dire need of, as they hadn’t been updated since 1977.

But the rest of the campus will soon have to be tended to. The master plan, then to cost $60 million and include new buildings, was first developed around the time of the recession and was put down by the counties; the counties also declined a $9 million mini-version. A $30 million version was recently proposed, and Keegan is more hopeful this time of it being funded.

“We had some really positive feedback when we had the county legislators on campus looking at the master plan,” he said. “I mean it was not a wholesale rejection. In fact, even today there was a recognition at the Essex County board meeting. There was a recognition that the Saranac Lake campus is in need of investment.”

PART 1 of 3:

Wednesday: College dropout to college president — Joe Keegan took the scenic route on his career path

Thursday: New president has background implementing new academic programs