A partnership between Erie Community College and the Metalworking Institute of Western New York is raising some questions.
The college, saying it is intent on helping meet a demand for technically skilled labor, plans to offer an associate in applied science degree in machine tool technology in conjunction with the private institute.
But some close to the situation are asking questions:
Why would the college, in essence, privatize a program it already offers or has the capability of offering?
Why would ECC join with a private business where tuition, at $5,100, is twice that of the college's $2,500?
Would Metalworking Institute students, once they completed the institute's curriculum, actually go on to ECC for the second year of the partnership program?
Why did some members of the Erie County Legislature, which normally approves or disapproves plans submitted by the college, present this plan themselves, in the form of a resolution?
Randi Cohen Kennedy, D-Amherst, head of the Community Enrichment Committee, which reviews ECC, was author of the resolution with Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda. It was passed April 10.
"What we asked the college to do was come up with a comprehensive instructional development plan, which includes collaboration with the Metalworking Institute and the National Tooling and Machining Association," Ms. Cohen Kennedy said.
"There is a need for skilled workers in the manufacturing trades industry. Fifty to 75 percent of skilled machinists and metalworkers will retire in the next five to 10 years," she added. "Our intention was not to privatize anything or put anybody out of a job, but to try to train more of our young people in technical types of jobs. The program the college had was not filling the need."
The college, Ms. Cohen Kennedy said, "had the right to come back to us and say, 'This would privatize a particular area.' But it came back saying it felt strongly about (doing this) too."
College officials also praised the partnership.
"What they are currently doing at the institute we are not currently doing -- and we couldn't begin to offer the state-of-the-art equipment at the institute," said Gena R. Proulx, vice president for academic affairs at the college.
"Plus, it is our understanding that there are 2,500 alumni of the institute who are looking to polish off their training with a degree."
Carlos Vernon, an assistant academic dean for technologies at ECC, said the partnership with the Metalworking Institute "addresses a lot of needs in our community.
"We can't offer what the Metalworking Institute has, and it would be a substantial cost to get the equipment."
At the same time, the Metalworking Institute "doesn't offer the blueprinting and cad-cam draft experience that we offer -- and employees are looking for people with this additional course work," Vernon said.
Yet, as the partnership is set up, ECC is phasing out several allied courses, including tool design, industrial instrumentation and manufacturing planning -- a fact some critics of the partnership find ominous.
"If the college is going to farm out programs, ultimately it will say we don't need all the faculty we have at the college," said one longtime ECC professor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Paul S. Goodrich has been director of the Metalworking Institute, at 4400 Broadway in Depew, for the past three years.
The not-for-profit corporation was set up in 1977 by the local chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association and the Machine Shop Association of Western New York.
Goodrich hailed the agreement with ECC, saying it has two main benefits:
"One is that, when students finish our program and go on to ECC, their New York State apprenticeship educational-related instruction courses are waived.
"The other is that the courses at ECC will greatly strengthen their math and blueprint-reading skills. The Metalworking Institute will be teaching the hands-on, machinist-related courses, and ECC will be handling the academic courses."
The four courses that candidates for the ECC degree would take at the institute include a machinist-tool and die maker course for $3,900 and computerized numerical control, coordinate measuring machine and cad-cam courses -- each $400.
The majority of the current metalworking students taking the latter three courses "are company-sponsored," Goodrich said. "They went through our machinist-tool and die maker course, then into job placement -- and now their companies are paying the tuition."
The institute recently did a mass mailing of more than 2,000 letters, informing alumni of the agreement with ECC.
"Since then, our phones have been ringing off the hook," Goodrich said of calls from graduates interested in completing their training with an ECC degree.