With a shrinking county population and enrollment challenges, SUNY Jamestown Community College is making changes on everything from the type of students they reach to programming that meets the needs of employers.
“JCC is a college that is undergoing significant change as we should. Our survival is dependent more than ever on our ability to adapt to those things that are changing around us,” said college President Daniel DeMarte.
DeMarte made his comments recently to the Chautauqua County Legislature’s Audit and Control Committee. During his presentation of him, he discussed the college’s goals for growth, questions surrounding the Dunkirk location, and lobbied for funds for capital projects.
DeMarte noted that the college is targeting its education with four groups of people: high school learners, traditional learners, adult learners, and out-of-area learners.
He says historically they’ve done well with high school and traditional learners, but have fallen short when it comes to adult and out of the area learners. “Those are not markets that we have actively pursued, and we need to for a variety of reasons,” he said.
“The top of the list is we’re losing population. Our demographics do not favor having enough people in the area for the jobs that we have right now.”
DeMarte came to the college in 2018. He noted that from 2010-18, the college lost enrollment.
“We’ve been sliding enrollment for nine years, which is not unusual,” he said. “Most colleges across the country have been sliding. We stopped that in ’19, so our immediate goal is to get back to where we were at in ’19 and then determine where we can go from there. We don’t anticipate that there will be much growth but some stability. So all our efforts are focused on regaining the momentum we had going into the pandemic.”
In the last three years, DeMarte said they’ve been focusing on workforce development, not necessarily pushing degree programs, but offering classes that help employers in the county.
As an example, DeMarte said the college was approached with a need for training in water treatment. “What had been happening, you would have to send employees to Morrisville, the closest place to get training. Based on that request, we worked with Morrisville. We’ve offered it here for the last two years and we’ve trained over 300 individuals locally in water treatment,” he said.
In fact, the program has been so successful, they’ve been asked to offer training for other counties, including Niagara. JCC is also looking to offer training in wastewater treatment because there is a need for that as well.
DeMarte said they’re also working on offering training programs over a shorter period of time. Last year they offered two programs, one for machining, the other for industrial technology. Instead of being offered for four semesters over two years, they offered 15 students these training programs that were 10 and 12 weeks long.
“All of them finished,” he said. “All of them had jobs paying $18-$19 an hour, which reinforces the point that not everybody needs a college degree. That’s the kind of thing we’re beginning to see success with and we need to do more of in the workforce area.”
For high school learners, DeMarte said last summer, in an attempt to get students to come back to campus, JCC offered high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to take one course for free. “We set a goal of 60 students. Sixty would have meant success for us. We had 100. So it filled before we were able to market the program,” he said.
DeMarte said JCC is going to run it again this summer. “We set a goal of 150. There’s lots of time between now and summer semester. We already have Already have 90 students in it,” he said.
JCC’s north county campus is located at 10807 Bennett Road (Route 60), Dunkirk. DeMarte said that location is up for discussion. “I have said since coming here, that I’m not sure that, geographically, that’s the place where we should be,” he said. “We continue to explore options. Nothing has gotten traction yet, however, there are two new partnerships that we are working on that may give us some insight into the answer to the question of whether or not we are in the right location.”
The first thing they’re exploring is a partnership with the P-TECH center. Their goal is this fall to offer some of the Career and Technical Education at P-TECH that JCC offers at its Manufacturing Technology Institute in Jamestown and Cattaraugus County. “That is not what we do in the Dunkirk center right now. What we offer there now is essentially the first year of the two-year transfer degrees. We don’t offer any CTE programming in Dunkirk. I think that perhaps there’s a void.,” he said.
DeMarte said he often hears about “the great divide” where people in the northern end of Chautauqua County won’t travel to the southern end. “That may be true of not just our students but maybe our employers as well. We’re going to test that by offering some CTE programming at that P-TECH facility in Dunkirk and see if we can get an answer to that question,” he said.
Their second goal is to restart a partnership with Job Corps. “The Job Corps in Cassadaga is repopulating their facility,” DeMarte said. “They essentially had been closed since the pandemic. At full capacity, there’s somewhere around 220 individuals. We had an agreement some 10 years ago where any of those individuals who wanted a college education with the help of the federal government would come to JCC and access our programming. We’re working on an MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) to pick up where we left off 10 years ago, but open it up more broadly and make programming accessible wherever we offer it and including in this case that P-TECH facility in Dunkirk. So you won’t have to come to Jamestown if there are students who are at the facility who wants some of that CTE programming that’s offered in the north end of the county. We’ll see how those two partnerships take place and if we get the insight we’re looking for in terms of location.”
This month, the county Planning Board is ranking its capital projects for the upcoming year. That list will be forwarded to the county Legislature. DeMarte said JCC has three projects on the list that he hopes the county will fund.
The first project is for Scharmann Theatre. DeMarte said they did get some funding last year, however, due to an increase in supplies, they weren’t able to complete the work. He said JCC needs an additional $53,000 from Chautauqua County, which is one quarter of the project. The college gets three-fourths of its funds from other agencies.
The second project is for the college to switch to LED lighting. DeMarte said the county’s cost would be $250,000. He added that once this is done, there will be an immediate benefit from savings in electricity costs.
The third project is for a new soccer field, which would cost around $4 million total, with Chautauqua County’s portion being $1 million. DeMarte said he understands the challenges of paying for something like this, but feels it is necessary.
“Here’s the deal from the college’s view,” he said. “We are not going to fill residence halls if we don’t have athletics. There’s no easy way to do that.”
DeMarte said a new soccer field will also help them recruit international students. “I can’t compete with Corning and other schools down the road if we don’t have the facilities to attract those students to JCC,” he said. “They want to come, they want to be here. They like it here. They want to stay here. But we’re at a point where I simply cannot compete with our neighboring institutions if we don’t start making some improvements to the facilities and it starts with turfing the soccer field.”
Legislators thanked DeMarte for sharing the college’s vision and challenges. “I appreciate your frankness because you’re the first person whose ever come to us I believe in the last few years, that kind of gives it to us straight — good news and bad news and I appreciate that,” said Legislator David Wilfong, R-Jamestown.