ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — A consulting firm confirmed what the president of SUNY Erie already knew, downsizing staff and significantly reducing ECC South’s footprint is a must.

The college commissioned rpk Group, a consulting firm, to make adjustment recommendations as the three-campus community college faces plummeting enrollment. Enrollment has dropped nearly 50% over the past 11 years, the institution currently has around 8,000 students enrolled.

Key findings from the report showed ECC failed to “right-size” faculty, staff, course offerings or facilities to account for low enrollment. In addition, it was found operating three separate campuses created “unnecessary administrative and academic structures that perpetuate overstaffing.”

In March, ECC announced its plans to combine 16 common programs scheduled at both the North and South campuses and hub them at the Amherst North campus. This means a reduction at the South campus.

“Probably the greatest consideration frankly was underutilized space suggesting there are other things we might be able to do with that space,” ECC President Dr. David Balkin told News 4’s Chris Horvatits in March. “But additionally the demographics. The population growth in the Southtowns is slated to be significantly less than the other two locations. ”

The rpk study suggested going further, no longer using South as a “home” for any academic or administrative departments. This aligns with another recommendation to unify the school as “one college,” moving away from the multi-campus model and eliminating low-enrolled programs.

ECC wants students to know that if any of these recommendations are put into place, they will not affect current, active students. Those enrolled in programs that are removed can finish out their studies. New students interested in removed programs will have to find something similar with an active offering.

Here are a look a the consultant’s specific recommendations on academics:

  • Eliminate programs with fewer than 30 students enrolled (3-yr average), declining or single digit growth (3-yr average) and degree production below 10 (3-yr average)
  • Monitor programs that are new (since 2018), have fewer than 60 student enrolled, have declining or single digit growth (3-yr average), and have degree production below 20 (3-yr average)
  • Restructure the academic offerings of SUNY Erie under a ‘One College’ model that assigns every department to one ‘home’ location, consolidates departments and departmental leadership to reduce the number of departments, and removes all instances of duplicative departmental leadership structures. Do not use South campus as a ‘home’ for any academic department.

Here are the recommendations on administration and staff:

  • Move all central office ‘homes’ to City or North
  • Reduce or reallocate staffing at South campus in specific functions to reflect the reduction of student and operational activity at that campus
  • Redesign Dean of Students role
  • Adopt shared service models for academic and student support functions as well as non-academic administrative support roles
  • Distribute staff across physical campuses based on student need and activity:
  • Create one stop shops on City and North campus for direct student services, such as Admissions, Bursar, Financial Aid, Registration and Advising
  • Included in this recommendation is a need to move as many student services online (self-service) or ondemand via virtual engagement as possible to best meet student needs
  • All position vacancies should be evaluated to determine opportunity for potential reallocations or position closure

“rpk’s assessment affirms what our community already knows. SUNY Erie must right-size the College’s staff, structure and footprint to best position the College for success,” said Dr. David Balkin, president, SUNY Erie. “Our priorities are confirmed by this report, and we will continue to work with all involved parties to evaluate and best implement data-based recommendations to ensure the long-term sustainability and success of the College.”

View the study below:

Patrick Ryan is a JANY award-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.