As a candidate for New York State Assembly, I’ve been speaking to voters all across the 125th Assembly District, and one question keeps coming up: what is your plan to create jobs? As we plan for our economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we should turn to Tompkins Cortland Community College, one of the greatest engines we have to lift people out of poverty and provide stable career paths.
TC3 touches the lives of countless people every day across Tompkins and Cortland counties. Its open admissions policy and affordable tuition have helped thousands of people attend college. Graduates of its esteemed nursing program care for us in local hospitals and medical offices, while its criminal justice program has trained generations of our local law enforcement officers. Ever since the first Vietnam era veterans enrolled at the Groton campus, TC3 has launched the educational careers of hundreds of veterans.
TC3’s mission doesn’t stop at providing excellent educational opportunities. Its training programs work with local businesses to retool employees’ skills. Its farm to bistro program, which includes the farm located on the Dryden campus, highlights our regional hospitality, wine, and agricultural industries. The Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center makes higher education accessible to parents of younger children. And TC3 enriches the leisure and educational opportunities for all our residents who take a photography or painting class, attend a local lecture, or make use of its gym and pool.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic struck, TC3 was facing harsh challenges. As the economy prospered after 2011, the enrollment at TC3 declined. 85 percent of TC3’s funding is tied to student numbers, and fewer students means less tuition. Moreover, Albany has never adequately funded community colleges, and the formula the state uses to calculate aid for community colleges is increasingly financially unsustainable. When the state cuts aid to TC3, it’s the college’s sponsor counties that bear the burden. Both Tompkins and Cortland counties generously agreed to increase their funding last year, but we cannot rely on increasing county support, especially given the current fiscal picture for county governments.
And, of course, the coronavirus pandemic has made an already dire situation much worse. The pandemic has hit higher education especially hard. Many TC3 students have experienced serious hardship as their lives have been upended, and colleges and universities across the state will be facing major financial hurdles in the months ahead.
Now more than ever, we must renew our commitment to TC3. We now face the possibility of thousands of newly unemployed workers in Tompkins and Cortland Counties who will be in desperate need of the training and educational opportunities the college offers. In 1992, Smith Corona shuttered its Cortland typewriter factory, throwing 875 employees out of work. TC3 played a critical role in retraining and preparing hundreds of those workers for good jobs in the professions and other industries.
Similarly, TC3 can aid in our economic recovery today. The college has recently committed to expanding its workforce development mission and partnering with local employers to prepare students for careers in Public Works, Manufacturing, and Healthcare, all areas with major growth opportunities in the decade ahead. Likewise, as the state moves forward with its Climate Action Plan there will be many jobs opening up in the green technology sector, and TC3 is well-positioned to provide the training for these opportunities. TC3 also already offers 14 programs online, and the college is prepared to be flexible in remote and in-person learning, as we don’t know what the future of higher education will look like as a result of the pandemic.
In Albany, I will be a strong advocate for the continued growth and health of our community colleges. The years ahead will be very tough, but we must support our community colleges so that they can prepare the leaders of tomorrow, the leaders who will help guide us out of this crisis. TC3 is democracy’s college, offering an open door and a pathway to new opportunities for so many, and now more than ever it’s critical that we ensure its future success.
City of Ithaca alderperson and candidate for NYS Assembly District 125