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Erie Community College is embarking on an ambitious $2.7 million technology plan meant to help establish ECC as the regional leader in work-force development.

The three-year plan, approved Wednesday by the college's trustees, calls for a major upgrade of technology resources and services, including a new network backbone, file servers and 1,000 Internet-connected computers for student, faculty and staff use.

"This is to ensure that the technological needs of the institution are addressed for the foreseeable future," said William D. Reuter, the college's chief administrative and financial officer.

"We spent a lot of time with faculty and staff and a team from the Collegis Corp. to develop the plan, identifying our needs and putting together our wish lists," said ECC President William J. Mariani, noting that a grant from the county has made the plan possible.

Funding for this, the first year of the plan, will come principally from $1 million of a $1.7 million special grant awarded to the college by the county in ECC's current budget.

A $165,000 Title III grant and a $100,000 IBM grant plus a matching State University of New York fund grant of $250,000 will bring the initial year's funding to $1,515,000. IBM equipment -- either leased or purchased outright -- will be the brand used.

"We will have to seek additional funds for the remaining two years of the plan," Reuter noted.

Need for the ambitious plan became clear as ECC did a self-study in anticipation of next month's evaluation visit of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Reuter said.

"We looked at all the recommendations in the self-evaluation," he noted. "They all pointed to a lack of up-to-date technology."

The plan comprises 10 projects that, when completed, will allow for videoconferencing and distance learning as well as new student IDs and the ability for students to register via the World Wide Web, Reuter said.

In other business Wednesday, the ECC board approved a new policy prohibiting release of official academic records to any current or former student who has an outstanding debt to the college.

"Most institutions already do this," Reuter said. "We had the county attorney review this, and we are within our rights. A student will still have access to academic records through computer. The college just won't release printed copies of the records until all bills are paid."

ECC currently has about $1.1 million in unpaid student accounts, about $500,000 of that amount from the past academic year.

"We began a policy just over a year ago that a student who does not pay is not entitled to register," Reuter said. "The $500,000 means we are down about 50 percent in uncollectible accounts. Before, we were averaging about $1 million a year."

It is hoped the new policy on the release of official transcripts and grade records will further shrink the debt, Reuter said.

"If one student pays, everyone should pay," he said.

ECC trustees also elected officers for the 2000-2001 academic year.

Patricia Krzesinski, a Cleveland Hill school administrator, was elected chairwoman; local attorney Adam W. Perry, vice chairman; and the board's student trustee, Michael Santoro, secretary.

Santoro's election is the first time a student trustee has been named a board officer. A resident of the city's East Side, he is a second-year liberal arts major at the college.

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