New NCCC president has experience picking programs

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 — As former vice president of academic affairs, North Country Community College’s new president, Joe Keegan, brings experience in forming degree programs and pathways to certifications that he says will help the college and its counties, students and communities.

Establishing new sets of courses that students want to take is key to increasing NCCC’s enrollment, which has declined since a peak about a decade ago.

But Keegan said he believes putting money into college programs that create professionals in local fields is a proactive approach to improving the quality of life.

“The college investment is one that’s really pro-social, right?” Keegan said. “(The dollars we spend) are actually going to see returns by helping people find a different quality of life, to find a different station in life and really contribute to their communities.”

Birch trees line a road on North Country Community College’s main campus in Saranac Lake this week. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

EMT training

Keegan explained this by discussing how the college started offering emergency medical technician courses last year. He was right in the middle of getting that done.

“Essex County was telling us a year-and-a-half ago that they were really in need of emergency medical services in the county, and we know that, right? So we said, ‘If we can be of help, let us know,’ so we worked with Essex County, Franklin County, the regional council, and it’s been a very successful program.”

Basic and advanced EMT courses can lead to a certification if students take a test after they have completed their courses. That makes them hirable, according to Keegan.

Keegan explained the idea for the program started at an Essex County board meeting when Crown Point Supervisor Charles Harrington spoke of dropped EMS calls in the Ticonderoga area because there were not enough volunteers to respond. NCCC then looked to see how it could help.

Scott Harwood, an employee of NCCC who is also Franklin County’s assistant director of emergency services, worked with several county and state officials to get a college program up and running.

“I think we’ve put 60 students through the basic EMT this far, and another 40 through the advanced EMT,” Keegan said.

NCCC Communications Director Chris Knight added that the program is offered at all three NCCC campuses.

“It started, initially, with just one, but we’ve been trying to have these classes at Ticonderoga, Saranac Lake and Malone, because there’s a need throughout both counties,” Knight said.

The program may still grow. Keegan said there were ways it could be expanded upon.

“We were thinking, ‘My God, if you had nurses that were also EMS trained?’ We have a number of students that want to get into our nursing program. What if on the way they earned their EMS?” Keegan said.

Trade school dropped

Not all programs can exist. It depends on whether there is the expertise among the faculty to give a nascent program room to grow. There must also be jobs available for students after they graduate. And it must be sustainable.

“If we create a program and you flood the market in two years and there’s no more jobs for people, it’s hard to sustain a program, especially if there’s a lot of startup costs,” Keegan said.

One idea that has failed is for a trade school. There was a proposal to have a school of applied technology in Ticonderoga, but a feasibility study found that the startup costs were double the initial estimate of $4.8 million. Also, Keegan said, many trades that would have come out of that school don’t require a degree to work.

Early childhood teacher ed

A proposal for the college to start training early childhood teachers is in the works but has not yet been approved by the college Board of Trustees. It started through the college’s child and family services program.

Enrollment staff discovered that there were a lot of students who wanted to work with youth. The college already has human services programs that prepare students for social work fields, but there was nothing yet with working specifically with children.

“So we came together as a group and we worked with the faculty, and we added a child-family services program designed to work with and support kids and their families … and Franklin County especially has been working to keep kids out of the foster care system,” Keegan said.

From that program, Keegan said they heard there was desire for a teacher education program. The tentative early childhood teacher education track would be an addition to NCCC’s liberal arts program, where students could take courses that could transfer to a teacher education program at another school such as SUNY Potsdam or SUNY Plattsburgh. The proposal is expected to come before the school’s Board of Trustees at the end of the month.

PART 3 of 3:

Tuesday: Keegan talks on first day of presidency

Wednesday: From college dropout to college president