SARANAC LAKE - North Country Community College President Carol Brown is voicing support for a series of proposed reforms to the State University of New York system.
Included in Gov. David Paterson's budget address on Tuesday, the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act is designed to give SUNY institutions more flexibility to become centers of job creation, curb what the governor called "overregulation" from Albany and allow SUNY schools to set their own tuitions.
Speaking at Tuesday's meeting of the NCCC Board of Trustees, Brown said the reform package contains proposals that would benefit the college and, ultimately, the economy of the North Country.
Carol Brown, president, North Country Community College
(Enterprise file photo)
"It's pretty groundbreaking in many ways, not in terms of loosening our fiscal responsibilities, but giving us some latitude and enhancing our position at the forefront of workforce and economic development," Brown said.
Among some of the proposed measures, the legislation would eliminate what Brown called "very cumbersome" regulations that require preapproval of purchasing contracts by the state comptroller and attorney general's offices.
The reform package also would allow SUNY property to be leased to other entities as long as it's for an educational purpose, and it would give state colleges and universities more latitude in forming public-private partnerships.
Brown, who took over as NCCC president last year, said she has previous experience in such a partnership that involved a private industry paying a share of the cost of building a new college facility to house programs for students in that industry.
She said the college could try to foster a partnership and develop programs with Adirondack Medical Center. Nursing is one of NCCC's key programs.
"Neither one of us could afford to do it on our own," Brown said. "But if this legislation passes, it would allow us to do joint ventures, which have not been allowed in the SUNY system."
Another proposal would give community colleges more direct access to state Dormitory Authority financing for the construction of residence halls and other buildings.
The proposal getting the most attention is a measure that would allow state universities and colleges to set their own tuition without approval of the Legislature. Tuition could be increased incrementally up to an annual cap of 2.5 times the five-year rolling average of the Higher Education Price Index.
The boards of state schools could also set different tuition rates for different academic programs, which Brown said would be a benefit to NCCC.
"Right now, no matter what course or program you're in, the tuition is the same," she said. "This allows us to adjust it, so if you're in a more cost-intensive program, we might charge slightly more because of the cost to get you in that career. But we wouldn't do it for all programs. We would be very selective and very careful."
Brown said she'll be lobbying the college's representatives in Albany to support the proposed legislation.
The college Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet again Friday to hear presentations from four different law firms and labor negotiators interested in representing the college in upcoming negotiations with the North Country Community College Association of Professionals.
The college's current contract with the union, which represents NCCC faculty and some other employees, expires Aug. 31.
"We'd like to begin that negotiation as soon as possible, not at the time the contract ends," Brown said.
College officials are currently in contract talks with Civil Service Employees Association Local 1,000, the union representing custodial, maintenance, office staff and some other employees. Their contract expired Aug. 31 of last year.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.