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NCCC finances ranked highly

More diverse programs, new delivery systems fortify college’s position among NY community colleges

SARANAC LAKE — North Country Community College was ranked among the top SUNY community colleges in the state when it comes to financial health and stability in 2017.

A recent report issued by SUNY calculated the financial composite score for all of its 30 community colleges, ranking them on a scale of 3.0 to minus 3.0, with 3.0 being the highest mark of financial health. The report considered each college’s reserves, ability to borrow and financial viability and efficiency, among other factors, in determining its ranking.

In 2017, the most recent year from which audit data was available, North Country Community College had a score of 2.9 and was tied with Monroe Community College, in the Rochester area, at the top of the financial health rankings, as illustrated in the table that accompanies this article.

This indicator follows another recent SUNY report (shown in the bar chart) that shows NCCC has the second-best fund balance/operating budget ratio among the 30 state community colleges. Based on data from the 2017-18 budget year, the college holds in its reserves or fund balance 33 percent of its operating budget, twice what is recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association.

NCCC President Steve Tyrell attributed the college’s position in these rankings to sound financial planning through the addition of more diverse academic program offerings and alternative delivery systems.

“These indicators show the financial stability the college has achieved and are a result of its desire to provide residents of the North Country region with new programs that are delivered in a manner that best serves these residents,” Tyrell said.

The landscape of student recruitment is rapidly changing due to declining high school populations throughout many parts of the state. Institutions of higher education are generally seen as slow to respond to changing demographics in the recruitment pool. The advent of online course and degree programs was one of the first significant changes in how a higher education credential was delivered. It was borne out of the need for colleges to find a way to expand enrollment and better serve an adult learner population.

Nevertheless, the adoption of online degree offerings has been a slow process for many institutions. Educators tried to squeeze the online curriculum into delivery structures that mirror the traditional 15-week classroom. Although online course registrations did increase, the growth was slow due to the fact that adult learners are largely looking to acquire a higher education credential at a pace faster than what would occur in a traditional 15-week span for a course.

As North Country faced the same decline of enrollment as its peer institutions did in 2011-2014, it began to target adult learners with new academic program offerings. Today, 80 percent of its enrolled students are adult learners. It also began to seek niched sites to offer academic programs. In 2016, NCCC was the only community college in the state with a double-digit increase in enrollment. This was accomplished by stabilizing the current decline in enrollment and by serving correctional facilities with academic programs through the Second Chance Pell initiative. Two years ago, the college began to offer online degree programs for adult learners. Now, North Country’s full-time equivalent enrollment currently runs approximately 200 FTEs above the smallest community colleges in the state. In 2012, it was the smallest of the 30 community colleges.

Recently, the college designed new delivery systems for adult learners. Beginning this year, students can complete three credit classes in 7.5-week blocks. By enrolling in multiple blocks a year, they can finish their associate’s degree in less than two years. This accelerated pace is what adult learners are looking for as they work to advance their career opportunities as quickly as possible.

Another initiative in Ticonderoga will allow students to complete classes online and on-campus on Saturdays. This hybrid design is attractive to adult learners looking for a traditional college experience that will not impede their work schedule. With small classes and engaging instructors who work with students to ensure their success, the college is being more responsive to the demands of adult learners.

“The recent string of small college closures in the Northeast region certainly has given institutions of higher education reason to pause and evaluate the stability of their financial position,” Tyrell said. “For it to maintain this strong financial position, North Country Community College will need to continue to explore and refine how it can deliver an academic credential in a manner that is most desirable to an adult learner. With a robust fund balance, it is well positioned to explore new strategies on how it will continue to stabilize enrollment and fortify its current financial position.”

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