Colleges need investment, too

Dear Gov. Kathy Hochul,

I had a great time volunteering for the World University Games in Lake Placid this winter. It was an exciting event that built on our Olympic heritage and spruced up our venues to make them competitive for years to come.

Mount Van Hoevenberg, where I was stationed, was filled with seas of volunteers, officials, journalists and athletes from all over the country and the world. But now those people have gone, leaving behind local Adirondackers, many of whom are too busy working and keeping their families afloat to volunteer, participate in or even watch events like these games. They may benefit somewhat by the new venues keeping Lake Placid viable as a tourist destination, as they will still be able to wait tables, make beds and fix things for the folks who visit.

On the other hand, Gov. Hochul, if you have roughly $500 million to spend on a two-week event, you must certainly have enough to also invest in those members of our community who want to create a better life for themselves and their families, and it would be an investment that will give you much more of a bang for your buck. I am talking about investing in community colleges, and North Country Community College in particular. NCCC is the only college in the state system based within the Blue Line of the Adirondack Park, and it is just as much, if not more, of an asset to this community as are the Olympic venues.

NCCC has been providing high-quality education for more than 50 years at three campuses as well as online, in four local correctional facilities and now at the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. However, while NCCC faculty and programs are world-class, the college’s facilities do not show it. As a result, many of the students who could benefit from what NCCC offers, including small classes and personalized instruction as well as unique programs like Wilderness Recreation Leadership and Massage Therapy, look at the campus and compare it to others with more panache, and go elsewhere. Even a fraction of the more than $500 million spent on the FISU games would create an exterior for the college that matches the incredible education going on inside, and would be another feather in your cap for economic development in the North Country because, believe it or not, the college is an economic engine, too, with every dollar invested returning at least five times that in benefit to the local communities.

Unfortunately, not only has the college not received enough money to improve its campuses, but you are planning to not even release the full amount of money you did budget this year for community colleges. NCCC’s entire annual budget is less than $15 million! Fifteen million dollars to provide education to all who want it at eight different locations around the North Country as well as online. Can you imagine how much scrimping that takes, and how many important facilities projects get put off year after year in order to put that money directly into education? Meanwhile the Olympic Regional Development Authority gets another $92 million on top of the money just spent on the FISU Games (and on top of the $100/person Whiteface lift ticket revenue).

I have nothing against winter sports. I think they’re a wonderful part of the heritage of this area and a great draw for tourists as well as world-class athletes. I just think that if even some of the money being poured into sports that are only played for half the year and facilities that mostly benefit visitors were put into facilities that provide year-round and lifelong benefit to local residents and communities, we would see a much greater return on that investment in the long-term flourishing of New York state and its people.

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Shir Filler is a resident of Bloomingdale and an English professor at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake.


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