AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie Community College is in jeopardy of losing its accreditation because or poor academic standards on assessment, a graduation rate that’s among the worst in the state and weak finances.
That’s according to a letter sent Wednesday by ECC President Dr. Dan Hocoy to all college staff, imploring them to do better.
In November, ECC was placed on “warning” status following an assessment in June that showed it failed to comply with standards of academic assessment, financial resources and institutional improvement.
A follow-up campus visit last week by representatives of an oversight committee underscored the troubling news — although Hocoy says the visit was only a follow-up from November’s report.
“I think it’s very fixable. I also think it’s very serious,” Hocoy said.
Losing the accreditation its held for nearly four decades is serious because it could mean the school would not be eligible for federal financial assistance — jeopardizing the lives of students who depend on it, and taxpayers who help fund it.
But Hocoy is optimistic.
“Although that’s a possibility, I think it’s highly unlikely,” he said.
Hocoy’s letter was sent after a campus visit by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which oversees colleges in several states, including New York.
The assessment by Middle States is especially troubling, Dr. Hocoy says, because ECC is considered a repeat offender when it comes to academic standards.
“I think we’re on the right trajectory to addressing some of the concerns raised by Middle State,” he said. “I think they’ve provided us with a fix-it ticket.”
But there are other gaps that need to be closed. A study published in December by the Center for an Urban Future revealed ECC’s graduation rate is just 22 percent.
That’s the lowest among community colleges in Western New York. And it’s the second lowest graduation rate among all SUNY community colleges in all of New York State.
Hocoy also pointed out in his letter that ECC is in danger of falling into warning status on another standard when it comes to graduation rates.
He says there is additional concern that some students are able to walk across the stage and receive a diploma — after only taking entry-level courses.
Hocoy, who was tapped to lead ECC a month after the Middle States assessment, says the organization first identified the college’s problems in 2012, and that all of the current shortcomings are the results of his predecessors.
Still, Hocoy says, ECC must do better, and he cited a stronger partnership with teachers and staff, and a half-million-dollar boost from Erie County that will allow them to maintain current tuition and student fee rates. He also said the college will soon be rebranded, from ECC to SUNY Erie, as part of a new future and new direction.
“We’ve been partnering with the faculty federation to make sure that they do their part in terms of assessment,” Hocoy said. “But I’m confident that by the fall, and certainly by next spring, which is our drop dead date, we’ll be in good shape.”