Mercyhurst offers to share its experience in support of proposed community college

The Mercyhurst College Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Thursday, Oct. 25, at its regularly scheduled meeting to authorize college president Dr. Tom Gamble to enter into discussions with local and state officials on a proposed community college and to extend Mercyhurst’s help in investigating options.

“Essentially, our board has said it is committed to helping Erie County in pursuit of this endeavor,” said Gamble, in accepting the mandate.

As a college that already operates a fully accredited branch campus delivering associate degree and certificate programs exclusively, Mercyhurst has a longstanding and successful history at Mercyhurst North East (MNE), where many of the goals consistent with the community college concept are already being met.

Mercyhurst established Mercyhurst North East 16 years ago as an “opportunity and career college” with the goal of providing post-secondary education for capable learners seeking to learn job-entry skills; in essence, to fulfill a community college role in the Mercyhurst tradition. It is situated on an 84-acre site with 14 buildings, including on-campus housing. There, under the leadership of executive vice president Dr. Gary Brown, nearly 900 students are pursuing an education from among 25 academic programs, including 18 two-year associate degree programs, and seven one-year certificate programs. The college is also home to 16 athletic teams and a variety of clubs and organizations.

“Clearly,” Gamble said, “our Mercy tradition of encouraging a greater spectrum of individuals to avail themselves of a post-secondary education is thriving at North East, and we believe that our experience in that arena provides an invaluable resource upon which local officials can draw as they move forward. We welcome the opportunity to help and, as we have aspired to do throughout the decades, collaborate with local partners for the benefit of the greater Erie community.”

In a letter to County Executive Mark DiVecchio in September, Gamble shared insights leading to the establishment of Mercyhurst North East. He wrote, “In keeping with the original vision of the Sisters of Mercy, in 1991, Mercyhurst made a substantial commitment by creating Mercyhurst North East, which was founded to increase access to higher education for young people who faced challenges getting into or paying for higher education. To help achieve that purpose, the tuition and fees at Mercyhurst North East have been held to about half those at the Erie campus and admission criteria have been eased significantly. Over the years, we have learned that successfully serving this population requires a real commitment and a substantial investment in student and academic support services. As a result of our investments of time, energy and money, approximately 2,500 students, primarily from the Erie region, have received associate degrees or advanced certificates from Mercyhurst North East. Many of those students have gone on to receive bachelor degrees and beyond at Mercyhurst College and other institutions.”

Gamble added, “For all the good that has been done at Mercyhurst North East … we are acutely aware that even at half the tuition of our Erie campus, affordability and access remain serious obstacles for many area students. We agree with you that there is a need for a community-wide effort to break down the barriers to higher education …(the college) fully appreciates and acknowledges that there is an unmet need in the community and stands ready to help in any way and to work with our community partners so that this remaining need can finally be addressed.”
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