If you have been to the hospital or even a doctor’s office anywhere in the North Country, chances are that one of the nurses or radiologic technologists who took care of you was a North Country Community College graduate. Many local police and corrections officers, state troopers, business owners, athletic event organizers, artists, managers, counselors, teachers, etc. have begun and/or completed their education at NCCC. The success of these NCCC graduates has been built, in large part, by the full-time professional staff: the teaching faculty, librarians, athletic director, enrollment and financial aid counselors, and student affairs professionals, among others, whose job is to deal directly with students, to teach and advise them and coach them to success.
Because of our dedication, in 2010, NCCC was ranked the number one community college in New York State and number 22 in the nation by Washington Monthly. This was partly based on our good graduation rate and retention of students, and partly on the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, which showed that NCCC is above average in its care for students and ability to challenge and support them in their academic and personal journeys, just as the college mission states.
Unfortunately, the North Country Community College professional staff labor contract expired in 2009, at the height of the recession. As a result, despite our good work, we have not been able to negotiate a new contract and have not seen a pay increase in three years, while at the same time class sizes and instructional challenges have increased. We know that times have been hard all over, and we have kept on doing our jobs with the same dedication and effort despite the increased demands. All local organizations have been trying to do more with less since the recession began, and North Country Community College is no exception. The college has done more. Since spring 2009, annual enrollment has gone from 2,246 students to 2,847 as of spring 2011, while the number of professional staff has gone from 56 to 51, and yet the quality of the education we provide has remained just as high. It is time that we received some compensation for the extra burdens we have shouldered, especially given that the college does have the money in its budget.
The college has been very responsible with its money. It has not asked Essex or Franklin County to increase its financial support in the past three years. (Thus any increase in our salaries would not affect local tax rates.) Yet somehow during this time, the college has still been able to go from a negative fund balance to one of $3.1 million (in a budget of about $13 million). How was that possible? One way was to not give raises to professional staff, even when the staff of every other college in the region received an increase. Another was to let staff members go and not replace them, nor to replace others who left for a variety of reasons, thus increasing the workload on everyone else.
NCCC professional staff are already among the lowest paid of college faculty in New York State, not to mention of teachers in general. Our starting salary, for an instructor with a master’s degree, is 32 percent lower than that of Clinton Community College, 17 percent lower than that of Adirondack Community College, and 26 percent lower than that of the Lake Placid school district. Additionally, faculty at local colleges, and even workers in Essex and Franklin counties have received raises over each of the past three years, while we have not.
In addition to receiving lower pay, we contribute more of our health insurance costs than most other public employees do: between 10 and 25 percent of our premium costs. Our insurance itself is the state employee plan (NYSHIP), which is less expensive than what most school districts have.
No one goes into teaching or working with students solely for the money. We are all in education because we have a passion to help students succeed. But we still have to live. The college estimates that it has an economic impact on the region of about $50 million a year. A large part of that comes from staff members who buy homes, pay taxes, shop, do business, and own businesses here. Our staff members also serve on planning boards and environmental advisory committees, organize artistic events, publish scholarly articles, work against child abuse, maintain websites for local arts organizations and serve on their boards, bring Santa Claus to local children, and even raise money on our own for student activities. We organize student community service projects like massages for Ironman athletes and nursing home residents, blood pressure and cancer screening clinics, volunteering at the fire department, cleaning up wilderness areas, collecting food and toy donations, putting together community athletic clinics, and much more.
North Country Community College has been running its professional staff harder each year, without proper support or compensation. All members of the college community want to keep the highly qualified staff we currently have and continue providing a quality education to our students. So we urge you – graduates, parents of students, patients of well-trained nurses, proprietors of local businesses, whoever you might be – to tell the college administration, the Essex County supervisors and the Franklin County legislators that the NCCC professional staff needs a fair contract that accurately compensates us for the work we do to bring success to our students and our region.
This column was written by the North Country Community College Association of Professionals, represented by President Carol Vossler.