Both Buffalo State College and Erie Community College are seeking to expand the roles they fill in the community in ways that go beyond the merely academic.
In addition to welcoming Aaron Podolefsky as the college's new president last year, Buffalo State opened a new $44 million student housing complex featuring apartment-style dormitories on the west side of the campus off Grant Street. It is also poised to build a new $7.2 million recital hall and is in the midst of completing construction on a new $38 million technology building as part of a $350 million campus improvement plan.
Off campus, Buffalo State opened the doors to the new Community Academic Center in November in a bid to use some of the college's resources to help improve the lives its West Side Buffalo neighbors.
John F. Siskar, senior adviser for Buffalo State's Educational Pipeline Initiatives, said the center, which is run out of a storefront at 214 Grant St., will offer a variety of cradle-to-career programming for youth and families on Buffalo's West Side.
"It was kind of a series of things coming together," Siskar said.
Not the least of them was the receipt of a $500,000 gift to the college from alumnus Eleanore Woods Beals, a 1950 graduate, and her husband, Vaughn.
"They were interested in helping children in the city of Buffalo. Concurrently with that, [Buffalo State College has] been doing a lot of outreach and partnering with schools and community-based organizations, as well as the philanthropic community, attempting to help children in city, with a particular focus on the children that are our closet neighbors on the West Side of Buffalo," Siskar said.
Richard Warshousky, executive vice president of student affairs at Erie Community College, said ECC also is expanding its services, particularly when it comes to assisting non-traditional college students. About 65 percent of ECC students are working while they're going to school.
"Unfortunately, they might not be working in the career path that aligns their education to that employment. So what we're attempting to do here, through these short-term certificate programs, is to give them that career pathway into employment in their [chosen field of employment], complete their degree and then use that as a stepping stone for transfer to a four-year institution," Warshousky said.
ECC has close to 100 degrees and certificate programs, in addition to 27 one-year, career-based certificate programs.
"These are all linked to industry so that a student could come here for one year, get that certificate and then be marketable for employment and, hopefully, continue on for their associate's degree here while they're working in the career field they've chosen," Warshousky said.
Ten percent of ECC's courses are offered through online education. There are 13 registered programs, degrees and certificates that can be pursued online at ECC.
"They can take it either fully online or they may decide they want to take a couple of courses a week in a seated environment and a couple online," Warshousky added.
Meanwhile, Buffalo State College, in its mission to expand community outreach to the city's West Side residents, is forging partnerships with several existing organizations in the community that serve them.
Among them is the Grant Street Neighborhood Center, which hosts a support group for young women in the community called the Girl Talk Program, which had been operating out of an old library on Grant Street about a block away from the Community Academic Center.
The center is now partnered with the Grant Street Neighborhood Center and PUSH Buffalo so that the young women now have access to Community Academic Center for their meetings.
"We partnered with them to use our space. They have, historically, been in large open space while, here, they can have in an intimate space [for their Girl Talk program], which supports the kind of issues they want to discuss," Siskar said.
In addition, he said, Buffalo State College has "educators on staff who would be working with the Grant Street Neighborhood Center staff who are working with the girls on these issues."
"There is a program that we're trying to finalize called Buffalo Beginnings, which is being done in sponsorship with Journey's End Refugee Services to bring together recently resettled refugee youth to help them learn about American life and culture as they transition into school and community [endeavors]," Siskar said.
"It's a unique program, because it works with [both] parents and children," he added.
There is a training program that the staff at the Community Academic Center employ called a "structured instructional operational protocol" that is aimed at training those engaged in teaching English as a second language, regardless of subject matter, Siskar noted.
The Community Academic Center also works collaboratively with the Buffalo Public Schools and its Department of Multilingual Education. It offers offer monthly parent drop-in meetings so that refugee parents can approach them with school- and family-related issues that are likely connected to being resettled.
Likewise, ECC is partnering with local schools across the county in its mission to better serve the diverse student body at its three campuses.
"ECC is an open-access institution. We don't deny students coming in here. So a lot of our students have to start out taking remedial education. Their English and math skills are not above the eighth-grade level," and instruction has to be tailored to meet the goals of its students, Warshousky said.
"We're always assessing new ways of teaching, new ways of integrated learning so that they can master these skills that maybe they didn't bring with them. We're partnering with all the K through 12 schools [countywide]," he said.
"A really big emphasis at ECC is in being primed to integrate more with the high schools and the four-year institutions to become that seamless pathway that the community colleges are on the continuum of education that you're going to be receiving lifelong," Warshousky added.
Siskar said collaboration is also a vital part of the Community Academic Center's mission.
"There are well over 100 organizations on the West Side alone that are very dedicated to helping youth on the West Side and, in particular, immigrant and refugee families. If you look at all these programs, why is it that we're still reading the headlines we're reading about children not getting help they need? The answer is, we're not working together," Siskar said.
The Community Academic Center is taking the early steps to begin to change that, he added.