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Clinton Community College President Dr. John Kowal explains decision to move college

Clinton Community College President Dr. John Kowal
Pat Bradley
/
WAMC
Clinton Community College President Dr. John Kowal

Officials at Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh plan to close the current physical campus and co-locate on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus.

Although the move was announced January 10th, many details remain unknown. College President Dr. John Kowal tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley at this point there are a number of undetermined components in the plan:

There are things that we need to look at very carefully. The reality is the announcement, the primary purpose, was to announce that this was the intent in order to keep the college moving forward, to be able to deliver programs, deliver the mission. That this was the realistic step to take in order to keep our institution going deep into the future. So now the component elements need to be figured out. I mean, this is a huge endeavor. That's why we need over a year to really make the, do the planning. Some of the planning has got to happen really soon in terms of the specific location on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus because it's very likely going to involve renovation of a building, reconfiguration, repurposing a building or buildings. So that has to be determined very soon. The other elements certainly are, you know, other services, other ways that we can continue to provide the best experience for our students. How is that all going to be configured in our new location? So it's an incremental type of process. The first step was to share the information. Part of the motivation too was that we're working closely with our accrediting body the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. We're on warning. We're in our second year in warning. Had a report due and it's a report that just doesn't focus on, you know, hopes and dreams and what we think might happen. It has to be a concrete plan with evidence that moves us to a point where we address our financial difficulties. Because that's what the warning is for. They're concerned that we don't have the resources, particularly financial resources, to deliver our programs into the future. So in order to have a robust plan moving forward, we need to have that happen quickly, to notify people so that in the broader community also know about it. And we submit the report to Middle States, which we did. It includes this as the key element to resolving our financial challenges.

 

So has the accreditation service, Middle States, responded to the plan or is that still up in the air as to whether they will approve this plan as being a valid plan for Clinton Community College?

 

They have a team that visits in late February. That's the time at which they're going to look for the details. By then we'll have more specifics available especially in terms of potential cost savings for this move. Those cost savings must put our budget in a sustainable status. That has to happen. So we have to have that information because that's how Middle States will judge this move. They don't have authority to approve it or not. What their major role is, and really their only role is, to determine whether that will address the concerns they have with our warning status. Then once they make the visit we have one more year. So that puts us in a pretty narrow timeframe. They could say we'll put you on warning but we're going to continue to want monitoring reports on this move, etc, more detailed information. I doubt that they'll say okay, we'll pull you off warning because we're early in the process. I mean, I'm a realist. The fear that I've had without making a significant move that could potentially have a good approach to balancing our budget, giving us a surplus, if we didn't have this in place in our plan, if it was just based on generating some additional revenues, saying it's projecting some increases in enrollment, my fear was they could move us to probationary status. Once that happens we do what's called a teach-out plan which is a very high risk situation. That's what happened at the College of St. Rose. They did a teach-out plan and we saw what happened there. I want to do everything in my capabilities and with my colleagues to prevent that from happening. And so making this move provides a robust approach to addressing those concerns. But really, the key timeframe is going to be in late February when they do their visit. A SUNY representative is present. And so we'll have conversations and we need to elaborate on how we anticipate this we'll get to where we need to get to. I mean it's not 100% guarantee you know how they're going to view it. But if we provide the necessary information I'm very confident that they'll say this is an innovative bold move. Which it is and they have emphasized that language in a lot of the documentation and management of institutions, keep saying you got to be innovative, you got to be bold, got to be transformational. Well, I can't think of anything more bold than moving the campus.

 

Dr. Kowal, I think a lot of people don't realize how much oversight, how much importance, the accreditation services are to a college. I think a lot of people think they just say yeah your programs are okay just move along. And that this is one of the key reasons why you are looking at and have formulated a plan to move the campus so that the college can retain its stability.

 

Absolutely. That very well put. The accrediting body has a tremendous impact on the institution because it's related to federal financial aid. If we had our accreditation pulled we will lose financial aid for our students which would basically kill our enrollment. So that's the key part. Because once a college loses its accreditation it's nearly impossible to get it back because other factors set in. You lose financial aid support, your enrollment crashes, and it just leads to other multiple effects. Having an institution accredited is crucial for the stability and the sustainability of an institution. It's at the core.

 

Dr. Kowal,  you mentioned earlier as you try to work out the details of the move to the SUNY Plattsburgh campus, that you are in the very beginnings of figuring it out and whether you need to renovate or repurpose buildings and such. What do you envision the Clinton Community College campus on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus being?

 

Thank you. And that's something that first of all it's absolutely crucial that we retain our identity as an institution with our own mission. And this is simply collaborating very strongly, sharing the space. But we retain who we are. It's not a merger at all. That language we don't use. I call it the M word. We're not using the M word. This is not a merger. It is simply sharing a campus location. We retain who we are. We're going to have the same funding model. We're going to have the same governance model. Our programs are the same. Everything is retained in terms of what defines us as an institution. So it's important to have a building or buildings that is strictly for Clinton Community College. It's really a campus with a campus. That that's how I'm viewing it. Now there's possibility that some components will be shared. I mean we'll be utilizing, for example, the food service. I look forward to the opportunity for our students to maybe have a commuter meal plan right at SUNY Plattsburgh and they'll have access to something that we can't provide in as extensive a way as you know, we have a vendor we're working with very closely. It's limited. Transportation is an issue too. There are other amenities that I'm really anticipating will be available to our students at the SUNY Plattsburgh campus.

 

And it might be easier too for some of the shared programs that you already have with SUNY Plattsburgh?

 

Absolutely. I think that this is a model that could really help us build on those types of integrated programs. We've already had some preliminary conversations. We have a program called the Integrated Dual Degree of Nursing. Those students take courses at Clinton and at the same time, through every of three of the first four years you're also taking a course through SUNY Plattsburgh, or several courses, and the fourth year is all SUNY Plattsburgh. So this makes it super convenient because they're in the same location. I see more of that happening. Also there are courses we can't offer at Clinton. There simply aren't enough students to take the course. I think of organic chemistry. I think of calculus two, calculus three. We don't offer those. They are students that need to take them, take them through cross registration through SUNY Plattsburgh. They're going to the SUNY Plattsburgh campus to take those courses. How convenient will it be now, same location, just gotta walk down nearby to take the inorganic chem with SUNY Plattsburgh and they're still a Clinton student. So that kind of advantage, I think is something that's going to really benefit our students.

 

There's one program, however, that I keep hearing cannot move from its current location: the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing. Why can't it move?

 

We have academic programs that have their classes in there. They utilize computers, electronic technology. That kind of laboratory equipment etc. can be moved to another location. The area for me that's the big unknown, and it has to do with one of the key principle uses of the IAM, and that's for workforce training when industries come in and do their training. I see this as a facility that will continue to be utilized in the future for workforce training. And I think the best way to move forward is to build a consortium to manage it, to operate it. I would be hesitant to say it could continue as a, like a satellite campus for the college because then we have to maintain it. Overall, the IAM certainly will retain its presence and its key role in workforce training. I'm certain of that. Part of it too is we have to identify which industries actually have the need in order to do that training. And it necessitates some real, well-informed conversations on how to move it forward.

 

Dr. Kowal, since the formal announcement has been made, what kind of feedback or concerns has the faculty or staff and students made? What kind of comments have you gotten about their thoughts on the move?

 

They're really mixed. There are a few of my colleagues who said it's a brilliant idea. Internally, I've had a few people that are really positive. They think it's a great idea. Others are concerned. I think the concern is, you know, what does the future hold for, you know, for me, as an individual in terms of, you know, with this move, what does that entail? Also, there'll be a sense of real loss because of our current location and some people been there a long time. The place is important. Certainly, we got a great view. But for our students, I'm not so convinced that a beautiful view is a major reason why a student chose to come to Clinton Community College. And I've had a little bit of feedback from students. Positive. Mostly because of the additional amenities that will be available at the new location. Now, it's not going to impact our current students. They're going to graduate in May. Others are in their first year. They'll finish, if they're full time, next year in May. Not going to impact them at all. It's the ones that we're recruiting now for next year that we have to be very clear about what the situation is and how they'll benefit from it.

 

Dr. Kowal, it sounds like the physical aspects of the move are at least a year off, if not more?

 

Yes, the consensus was fall of '25, the academic year '25-'26. So it gives us a year and a half, really, to do all the planning. And even at that if it's a building that requires major renovation, you know, that's got to be done in a pretty expedient way in order to be ready for fall of '25.

 

It could be even longer then?

 

The nervousness I have is our budget situation and Middle State situation. Our deadline on our warning is summer of '25. So that means that's right at about the same time we're already making the move. They're going to want to see significant progress on that with evidence of reduction in our budget deficit. So that's why being there in the fall of '25 is crucial. If there's a long delay then we're going to have to have relief from somebody and that probably means the state in order to carry this through to fruition.

 

 

Dr. John Kowal is president of Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh, New York. It has been located on a bluff overlooking Lake Champlain since 1969.  Enrollment has declined from a high of 2,249 students in 2012 to a low of 994 in the 2022-23 academic year.