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Another Voice: Loss of Millard Fillmore College leaves a void

By Timothy Hartigan

“The University of Buffalo exists for service.” With those words UB began its “evening session” in 1923 as outreach to working adults who wanted to further their education but could not attend the day session. Students took business-related courses downtown and science courses on the South Campus. A three-credit course cost $20, well within reach of the secretary who aspired to be an accountant or the surveyor who dreamed of being an engineer.

The evening session was renamed for Millard Fillmore in 1937 as the university sought to honor the 13th president’s path from poverty to prominence through education. Many people, both traditional degree-seeking UB students and non-matriculated students, improved their lives by taking Millard Fillmore College courses in seated classes at the university and at off-campus locations, as well as through distance education and in online formats.

Not only has MFC helped thousands of Western New Yorkers achieve a certificate or degree by delivering courses in a variety of formats, it has served as an incubator of new programs. Many UB schools and departments can trace their origins to MFC. In addition, “University Express,” a series of noncredit college-level classes offered by the Erie County Department of Senior Services at area senior centers, began at MFC as the “Lifelong Learning” program in 2004.

Sadly, with the new academic year underway, UB has quietly mothballed Millard Fillmore College, halting what has been almost a century of service to area citizens. Whether UB reinvents and reenergizes MFC remains to be seen. If it does not, will the Educational Opportunity Center, linked to MFC as a next-door neighbor physically and philosophically, be the next to be unplugged and put in storage?

Millard Fillmore achieved his goal of becoming a lawyer by diligent study while clerking and teaching school on the side. The storyline of young Fillmore’s life – talent, hard work and drive that allowed his talents to blossom – resonates with today’s nontraditional students whose genius flowers in much the same way – working while studying and getting internships in their respective fields of study. Added hurdles today’s students face and overcome in their educational path include child care, transportation, health problems, legal issues and debt.

While UB may be furtively closing a door to nontraditional students that bears its founder’s nameplate, the legacy of Millard Fillmore – Buffalo’s first social entrepreneur – is secure and lives on in area museums, hospitals and libraries. More importantly, Fillmore’s spirit of self-improvement through focused study is alive and well at other colleges in Western New York, proving that higher education does indeed exist for service.

Timothy Hartigan, Ph.D., works at Bryant & Stratton College.

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