CARS HOMES JOBS

Community colleges growing into communities

Sunday, February 16, 2014
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Interior view of the Schenectady Community College dormitory.
Interior view of the Schenectady Community College dormitory.

— A cluster of townhouses, unique restaurants and new retail outlets is being planned for Amsterdam, but the $12 million building project isn’t being pursued by investors.

Plans for a Global Village are being drafted this year by Fulton-Montgomery Community College, one of several learning institutions drawing not only students but also revenue and people to the Capital Region.

SUNY Adirondack in Warren County opened its first student residence hall in the fall of 2013, a year after a new College Suites at Washington Square opened to accommodate 264 students at Schenectady County Community College.

SCCC views the new student housing more as a benefit for students than an economic development tool for the surrounding community, according to comments provided via email by the college’s assistant vice president of student affairs.

“Schenectady County Community College opened its College Suites in time for the fall semester of 2012, and there has been great interest in the facility,” Stephen A. Fragale said. “The College Suites, operated by United Group, has been and continues to be a valuable addition to our growing and vibrant school community.”

SUNY Adirondack opened housing with 400 beds for students last year, a $20 million project the college also views as a student benefit. It’s a benefit that’s drawing more students who, along with friends and family, also spend money in the community.

Brian Durant, SUNY Adirondack vice president for academic and student affairs, said the college began seeing a boost in interest not long after the project was finished.

“This year, we are seeing an increase in our overall enrollment,” he said.

The college’s student population is growing due not only to the new housing, but also the addition of a 30,000-square-foot extension center on Route 9 in Wilton.

There is likely a benefit to the outlying community, Durant said. The housing is likely attracting students who might otherwise not consider a college that doesn’t offer housing.

“If they’re living here, we hope and we believe that they’re taking advantage of local opportunities,” Durant said.

Studies outlining the impact colleges have on their communities point to wages and salaries of employees, spending by students and their friends and family and other outlays by colleges, such as capital projects.

A 2010 report by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli depicted higher education as a “major industry” in New York that yielded more than $60 billion in economic activity in 2009.

New York’s 269 colleges employed about 266,110 people in 2009, generating about $13.2 billion in payroll that year, according to the report, “The Economic Impact of Higher Education in New York State.”

It’s an impact that appears nearly immune to periodic recessions. Between 2001 and 2003, employers outside of education declined by 2.6 percent, while higher education employment rose by 5.8 percent, according to the report.

Higher education job growth again beat out other fields during the period between 2003 and 2007, when education jobs grew by 4.8 percent, compared with 4 percent through the rest of the economy.

FMCC’s Global Village

Fulton-Montgomery Community College, with about 2,850 students, opened a new, 144-bed student housing facility in 2012 and outgrew it within the first year.

With a total capacity of 288 beds, the community college is putting 50 students up at a motel and another 50 were on a waiting list by the end of 2013.

Most of the development’s new housing, projected to open in 2016, will be for students, but housing for about 25 non-students will be part of the project.

As envisioned, the new neighborhood would also feature restaurants — none considered nationwide chains — and unique shops offering products people can’t get just anywhere.

FMCC President Dustin Swanger said new housing can serve as an attractive lure that brings more students and more spending.

“It brings people to the area who would not have come, and they come and they spend money. They buy cars, go out to eat, they participate in community events,” he said.

“In the short term, certainly, just building housing creates jobs and revenue for local companies. The long term is those students spend money when they’re here.”

The college saw a 3 percent boost in enrollment after opening expanded housing that boosted available beds from 144 to 288.

It was at a time when most community colleges were seeing a decline in enrollment, Swanger said.

He said there’s some housing available in communities surrounding the college, like Amsterdam and Gloversville, but existing housing miles from campus doesn’t lead to much confidence on the part of parents.

“When a parent is sending their child off to college, they want to know that there’s supervision and if they are in an environment that’s safe and secure,” Swanger said. “When we expanded housing, we saw a different reaction from parents who were considering sending their child to us.”

Reach Gazette reporter Edward Munger Jr. at 843-2856 or emunger@dailygazette.net.

 
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