Erie Community College is expanding a program that brings its courses to the congregations of area churches.
The college, which launched the initiative last summer with eight partner churches in Buffalo, is broadening the effort to 12 churches starting in January.
The school hopes to serve 200 or more students next semester who, because of financial or personal obstacles, otherwise might not have gone to college.
"It's about this concept of empowerment and hope," Richard C. Washousky, ECC's associate vice president for academic affairs, said in an interview.
College officials and area clergy announced the enhanced partnership Friday morning at a forum in St. John Baptist Church. Snowy weather limited attendance to about 30 people, Washousky said afterward.
The "College to Church" program may be the only one of its kind at a community college in the state, or possibly the nation, organizers said last year.
The program offers admissions and financial-aid assistance and gives students the chance to take GED classes, vocational programs and college courses at their church.
Washousky and other officials said ECC could reach prospective students through the churches who might not feel comfortable taking courses in a traditional campus setting.
"We see it as a way to really, really change communities from the bottom up," Kenneth H. Smith, a program coordinator at GROUP Ministries and an ECC graduate, said after Friday's forum.
ECC works through GROUP Ministries of Buffalo to assess prospective students' capabilities and needs and to assign them to the right program at a specific church.
Fifty-two students enrolled in six courses in the spring semester, and 31 students enrolled in the three courses offered this fall, according to ECC. Some original students have moved on to take courses at one of ECC's three campuses.
Eight courses are proposed for the upcoming semester, and Washousky said ECC is hoping to enroll as many as 250 students.
"This spring will be the real kickoff," he said.
Initial course offerings have focused on liberal arts and the humanities, but ECC hopes to offer business and technology courses in later semesters.
Smith said one of the goals of the program is to reach people who don't attend the participating churches. "We're hoping to reach a broader target population," he said.
The eight original churches are continuing in the program, with four new churches added.
Also Friday, officials announced that the ECC Foundation is making available $5,000 in scholarship money for students enrolled in the program.
For more information about the program, contact Martie Dixon at 851-1939.