Picente eyes merger of colleges

STATE OF THE COUNTY -- County Executive Anthony Picente delivers his annual State of the County address at the Radisson Hotel in Utica today.

Oneida and Herkimer counties should explore merging their community colleges into one school.

That was the major takeaway from this morning's State of the County address by Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.

"A merger of MVCC and HCCC would show not only our boldness of thought but our disregard to the notion of the impossible," he told the audience assembled in the Radisson hotel ballroom. "At the very least we owe it to our respective constituents and students to see if it can work."

His comment was greeted by applause from the crowd.

Picente introduced the topic as he neared the end of his look back at 2013 and look ahead at this year by noting that Herkimer is currently without a permanent leader.

"The changing landscape of community colleges coupled with the change and growth in our region calls for bold action to address our needs," he said. "As we both look to strengthening our economy, through education, our community colleges are but 15 miles apart in distance but nearly on the same page in course offering."

MVCC has campuses in Utica and Rome. HCCC is in Herkimer village.

Picente, who is a graduate of MVCC, sees opportunities for collaboration.

"As Herkimer looks to a training center for Remington, MVCC's machine technology shop is prime for growth," he said. "Our interests intersect, shouldn't our approach."

The county executive said that 11 of the 16 highly paid jobs at the Computer Chip Commercialization Center now under construction at SUNYIT in Marcy require associate degrees.

MVCC Board of Trustees Chairman David Mathis was in the audience at the State of the County program and said afterward it was the first time he'd heard of Picente's interest in having the two colleges consider a merger.

"I think it is a great opportunity for both institutions as we go forward," he said, adding it was time for the boards of both schools and elected officials to start talking.

"The time is right for us took at a different model," Mathis said.

He noted the state does allow for community colleges to be operated as regional schools. Additionally, some community colleges were jointly started by neighboring counties.

Mathis said, the savings and opportunities could be "immense" to both counties.

"We just need to open the doors and start talking," the board chairman said.

MVCC President Randall J. VanWagoner also was at the State of the County address, but declined to make any comments, saying he was deferring to his board chairman .

The initial reaction from the Herkimer school was neutral.

"The college is open to exploring any ideas, any ideas that would benefit the college and Herkimer County, and the region as a whole," said Rebecca Ruffing, director of public relations.

Noting that Herkimer is about to launch a search for a new president, she said, "The timing for (merger) discussion is right."

​Picente said after his speech that the has been thinking about a possible combination of MVCC and HCCC for at least a year. He said the recent retirement of Herkimer President Ann Marie Murray spurred him to making a public call for consideration of merger of the two schools.

Both counties make annual contributions to their respective colleges as their sponsors. Oneida County's amount is nearly $7.3 million, plus paying half of capital building projects.