NCCC enrollment rebounding, president tells Franklin County

Joe Keegan, North Country Community College's president, gives an interview in June 2019 in his office in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

MALONE — Joseph Keegan, president of North Country Community College, met with the Franklin County Legislature Thursday prior to its regular meeting at the courthouse to update lawmakers on changes at NCCC, additions to course offerings and plans for the future.

Keegan told lawmakers that enrollments have rebounded from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been with you, so I wanted to provide you with an update on some things,” Keegan said. “I want to just thank the county for your ongoing support for our college, faculty, and staff. I say it every time, but its the truth: We are really honored to be the college of Essex and Franklin County.

“We carry that mantle proudly, and your support means a lot to us.”

Keegan congratulated Edward Lockwood, R-Malone, as the new chair of the legislature, as well as Justus Martin, R-Moira, and Nedd Sparks, R-Tupper Lake, both of whom are newly elected members of the board following November’s general election.

“I look forward to the opportunity to at some point be with you all in your districts and learn how the college might do a better job of supporting you and your constituents,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve been able to do with most of the legislature, and I’m always happy to do that.”

Keegan said the support of the counties NCCC serves has been instrumental in its successes.

“I think the strength of our application is in the community support and yours and Essex County’s were two of the keys for us,” Keegan said. He also lauded his faculty and staff for their work and dedication.

NCCC has seen an improvement in enrollments, Keegan said, and he hopes to see that trend continue.

“I come with some improved news on the enrollment front,” Keegan said. “We had rebounded enrollment for the spring; we were level with last spring. That was really wonderful news for us. We are seeing our fall applications are up. The challenge is in making sure those become students in seats. I’d rather be up in applications than not, so that’s really good news as well.”

Keegan said the campuses are starting to see some normalization in the wake of COVID, with students and families returning for visits that were not possible at the height of the pandemic.

“It’s really a breath of fresh air,” he said. “We’ve been behind screens for a long time.”

He said while COVID was challenging for the school, it presented some opportunities for NCCC and the rural populations it serves.

“The one benefit of COVID is that we were able to have greater penetration into the really rural parts of our county,” Keegan explained. “Pre-COVID, 5% of enrollments were online; post-COVID, we’re at about 40%. At one point we were at almost 100%, but that’s still positive.”

Keegan went on to highlight work he has been engaging in with the New York Community College Association of Presidents and in partnership with the New York Community College Association of Trustees.

“Back in the summer, the community college presidents and the trustees said ‘we’ve got to do more around community college funding,'” Keegan said. “Community colleges have historically been funded on a full time equivalent basis. What we asked to do was to be funded at a floor, like the counties fund us, which allows for greater predictability in our budgets. It allows us to have some stability when there is fluctuations in enrollments.”

He said for two of the last three years, NCCC has received floor funding, Gov. Kathy Hochul has included it in the 2023 executive budget proposal. He said the organizations also asked for a 4% raise in operational aid to community colleges.

“We’ve been flat,” Keegan said. “We’ve had increasing contractual costs and I think the county knows as well as anybody the inflationary costs over the last couple years.”

He said another ask was for continued support of a dedicated fund to improve enrollments and student supports, and said both of those asks were included in the budget proposal from Hochul’s office. Keegan is hopeful that those requests will make it through the state budgeting process in Albany happening over the next several weeks.

“Our local representatives have been very supportive, as they always are,” he said.

Meeting identified needs

He said new programs, such as EMT training and wastewater treatment certifications, have been a success for the school and for the North Country communities in need of those workers, and he thanked the county for their support in getting those programs up and running.

“We were able to launch basic EMT classes last fall in Saranac Lake,” Keegan said, adding that advanced classes are ongoing in both Malone and Saranac Lake and an advanced EMT certificate is available. He said grant funding allowed the school to improve the equipment on which EMTs train, such as CPR dummies, and added that the school plans to expand the program to the Ticonderoga campus next.

“How many EMTs were you able to train?” Lindy Ellis, D-Saranac Lake, asked.

Keegan said 37 were enrolled in the program in the fall with another 28 currently taking classes this semester. “And we’ve got classes planned for the summer and again next year,” Keegan added.

He said input from area schools regarding a need for teaching assistants led the college to introduce a certificate program.

“We heard word in early January that that had been approved by New York State Ed, and we began offering it this spring,” Keegan said.

He said the college continues to work to meet area needs for human services workers, addiction counselors and other roles as identified by area K-12 schools.

“We set up a basic wastewater course in response to the needs of our communities,” Keegan continued. “We were able to get four students enrolled in the course in the fall. We’re planning to hold a wastewater round table this fall to get input from various stakeholders and see how we can better operate.”

He said other efforts at the school include work to ensure that instruction at the two-year level will lead to relatively seamless transfers into four-year schools.

Capital projects

Keegan told lawmakers the school intends to break ground on capital projects after commencement in late May, after an influx of funding to support nursing and science programs, including $250,000 in funding secured by Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake. Keegan said that, assuming the supply chain remains healthy, those enhanced classrooms should be ready for students by the start of the fall semester.

“We have not had a big capital investment in our campuses in years,” Keegan said. “That’s really exciting.”

He added that the school would also do some improvements to the HVAC system.

The board thanked Keegan for the update and lauded the efforts of the school, its staff and faculty.

“We’re lucky to have North Country Community College,” county Manager Donna Kissane said. “They’re such an asset to us.”


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