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Volunteers Join the Battle Against Invasive Species

volunteers-water chestnut

This story originally aired on WRVO Oswego.

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Water chestnut script

The state department of environmental conservation has designated this week as invasive species awareness week. The goal is to encourage the public to help stop and reverse the spread of invasives. For a group of volunteers central NY, that battle has been joined.

Our story comes from David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

Natsot:

Off for an adventure. What are we going to find today…you never know!

 Ambiance boats going in

On a July morning, nine volunteers put their canoes in the Seneca River. They’re paddling in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge west of Syracuse. Battling a strong current and stronger wind, they head to a section of river called the Swift-water channel.

 Lets whip around….pull on your left side there.

ambiance Wind and water

 Their objective: to remove as many invasive water chestnut plants as they can find. Their leader is Chris Lajeski, from the Audubon center at Montezuma. Balancing in a kayak, he reaches into the water and pulls out a plant by its roots.

THIS IS JUST STARTING TO GROW, IT’S A SMALL PLANT GOING TO GET A LOT LARGER AS THE SUMMER GOES ON. IT’LL BE ABOUT A FOOT AND A HALF IN DIAMETER BY THE END OF THE SUMMER.

Water chestnut was introduced to North America in the late 1870’s, and by the 1950’s had spread to the Finger Lakes. The plant’s triangular leaves float on the surface, blocking the sun and making it difficult for native plants to thrive. It can quickly grow so thick it chokes off rivers. streams and lakes.

 There’s more, on the left…yeah this is the thickest we’ve seen it today I think.

Upstream, two volunteers are trying to maneuver their canoe in a dense matt of the stuff, just off the main channel.

OK lets back up.

Gretchen: now you get to see how bad it can be

Dave: There are some places where you could use snow shoes instead of a canoe.

Plant by plant, they have been clearing this section of river.

IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE A SMALL THING, AND I THINK IT IS, BUT YOU DO THIS TWICE A WEEK, ALL SUMMER LONG EVERYTHING ADDS UP.

Adds up to 1 to 3 –tons- of aquatic plants pulled a season, since the project started -7- years ago.

The volunteers are from a group called MARSH that’s working to restore the Montezuma wetlands….50 thousand acres of public and private land that provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl. For those birds, the invasives are like junk food with little nutritional value. Montezuma’s Kent Kowalski says the birds eat better now many invasives are gone.

SO NOW WE HAVE SUBMERGED AQUATIC VEGETATION THAT WE LIKE COMING UP IN PLACE OF THE WATER CHESTNUT. AND THAT PROVIDES FOOD FOR A LOT OF THE WATERFOWL, A LOT OF THE BIRDS IN THIS AREA THAT MIGRATE THROUGH

There are people perks too. Bird watchers Steve and Linda Benedict started pulling water chestnuts so they could get access to places the public can’t go. This was a good day on both fronts.

SO WE SAW AN ADULT AND BABY PILEATED WOODPECKER, AND WE SAW A FAMILY OF WOOD DUCKS, AND WE’RE HEARING MARSH WRENS, COMMON YELLOW THROAT AND SWAMP SPARROWS, SO WE JUST LOVE BEING OUT HERE.

ambiance pulling it out…dripping sounds

Natsot: they got a lot, should we go in there?

While this channel has been significantly cleared, a big infestation remains upstream. That may require a mechanical harvester or even herbicides to root out. In the meantime, this group is ever vigilant as it aims to halt the invasion.

OH THERE’S A WATER CHESNUTT…SPLASH…I GOT IT!

ANOTHER INFESTATION SQUASHED.

For WRVO, I’m David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

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Redeemer Cup Soccer Tourney Showcases City’s International Diversity

Soccer

 

By David Chanatry, The New York Reporting Project at Utica College

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In Utica’s Proctor Park last weekend, the sounds of sport filled the air. Despite the season, however, they weren’t the cracks of the bat associated with the national pastime. Instead, coming from fields set between a baseball diamond and basketball court were the kicks and whistles of what many call “the beautiful game.”
It was the sixth Redeemer Cup international soccer tournament, a sort of mini-World Cup in central New York. This year fifteen teams comprised of refugees and immigrants competed for the Cup. More than ten percent of the Utica’s population is made up of refugees

“We’ve got Somali Bantu, we’ve got east Africa, we’ve got Iraq. We’ve got two different Karen teams,” said Paul Schilling, a pastor of the Redeemer Church, which runs the tournament

Most of the players are from this city known for welcoming refugees. Schilling said the goal is for old and new Uticans to get to know their neighbors.

“Utica has over 25 different nationalities, some refugees, some immigrant, but they all know soccer,” he said. “So we thought that’s the common denominator.”

The players have embraced the idea, making new friends and getting reacquainted with old ones, said Jose Mendez, a Utican who was playing midfield for the El Salvador team.

“Soccer, or as we say football, brings people unites. That’s the beauty of it,” said mendez. “the Bosnian team we just faced, most of them were in high school with me.”

Kareem Hamad is a nursing student in Utica, by way of Iraq. He says he waits for the tournament every year.

“Its definitely beautiful the feeling I have” Hamad said. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I was so excited.”

The games were played all weekend long on four side by side fields.   Balls occasionally bounced from one to another. Players hung out between games. Fans wandered from match to match. Many sat in bleachers under umbrellas to shield them from the sun.

Utica City Court judge Ralph Eannance was sitting right behind one goal.

“I have some friends playing on at least two different teams that I’ve gotten to know these past few years,” Eannance said. “I’m rooting for Iraq this game.”

A few rows back, Nan Han was pulling for the other side.

“I’m cheering for the Redeemer Burmese team,” she said.

Han is a senior at Utica’s Proctor High, and will head to college next fall. The tournament she says, reveals something about her adopted city.

“It tells me that we’re not afraid to be together. We’re not afraid of our differences,”Han said.

But this tournament was not all brotherly love. Make no mistake, on the field, these guys want to win, said Jose Mendez.

“It’s serious. People take it to the fullest, to the heart. This is some people’s …dinner. Know what I’m saying.”

Perhaps the coach of the Somali Bantu team best summed up the competitive nature of the tournament. .

“I really can’t talk right now. After the game you can interview me,” he said when approached for a comment. “Because my pressure is up!”

As one fan said, the ball is a circle so you never know who is going to win. This year the Iraq team beat the defending champion East Africa in the title game.

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Migrating Waterfowl Flock to Upstate Wildlife Refuge

Snow Geese from Andy Saunders 2015
 
Photo credit: Andy Saunders
This story originally aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
If you drive on the thruway between Syracuse and Rochester you’ll go right through the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge…a  wetland that every spring is filled with huge flocks of migrating waterfowl and other birds. David Chanatry from the New York Reporting Project at Utica College recently visited the refuge and spoke with the director of the Audubon Center.

 

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NYRP-UC Reports on Seneca Lake Arrest for NPR

mckibben arrest

This story originally aired on NPR.

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Seneca Lake Protesters Arrested En Masse

mckibben pic

This story originally aired on WAMC Northeast Public Radio, WRVO Oswego, and WSKG Binghamton.

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For the past 17 months, demonstrators periodically have been blocking the entrance to a planned natural gas storage facility on Seneca Lake. Yesterday, in the biggest protest yet, police arrested 57 people including writer and climate activist Bill McKibben. Our story comes from David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

Police arrested McKibben and the others after they stood side by side in the driveway, preventing trucks from getting in or out of the site. All 57 were charged with disorderly conduct and released. McKibben was a leader of the movement to stop the Keystone pipeline and one of the first writers to highlight the danger of climate change. Before the police moved in he told the other protesters the world is moving away from oil and gas. The audio was recorded by the environmental group We Are Seneca Lake.

“After 100 years of a free ride the fossil fuel industry is now met at every turn by people saying it’s a new world.”

McKibben praised the sort of delaying action the protesters have been waging against the fossil fuel infrastructure.

“If we can hold them off for 3 or 4 years more there’s no way any of this stuff will ever built again.”

The Texas energy company Crestwood Midstream owns the caverns left over from salt mining, and wants to upgrade them to store natural gas, propane and butane, as a way to meet seasonal demand for fuel. Federal authorities have approved, but so far the New York DEC has not.

For WRVO, I’m David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

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Abolition History Day Celebrated in Utica

abolition-history-day

This story originally aired on WRVO Oswego.

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It’s been 150 years since the passage of the 13th amendment, which ended slavery in the United States. The amendment was ratified after the end of the Civil War, but the fight to end slavery took place over decades. One battle fought in 1835 in downtown Utica was commemorated last week. Our story comes from Rashida Patrick with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

Ambi singing Freedom….freedom…

More than 150 people packed into Utica’s oldest black church last Wednesday to celebrate Utica’s abolition history day, a day that helped change Utica and the nation’s history.

They got a lesson in history, and human rights.

Singing full Freedom

180 years ago to the day, 600 men had gathered in downtown Utica to start the New York Anti-slavery society.

But they weren’t the only ones to show up, says Kathryn Silva a professor of African-American history professor at Utica College.

300 ANTI ABOLITIONISTS WERE ALSO THERE OUTSIDE THE BUILDING, KNOCKING ON THER DOORS, TRYING TO POUND IN THE DOORS STOP AFRICAN AMERICANS FROM GETTING THEIR RIGHTS AND BECOMING FREE.

What followed was known as the Utica riot. City leaders and other Uticans who were opposed to abolition broke up the meeting, forcing leading abolitionist to reconvene in nearby Peterboro, NY to form the anti-slavery group.

Utica had been chosen to hold the meeting because upstate New York was one of the most important centers for the growing abolitionist sentiment. The Oneida Institute there had more African American students than any other college at the time. Dr. Milton Sernett, a retired Professor of African American studies and History at Syracuse University said the Institute provided a training ground for young men who called for immediate emancipation of the slaves.

WHAT IS INSPIRING IS THE DEGREE TO WHICH THESE ABOLITIONIST, YOUNG AND OLD, PUT THEMSELVES FORWARD FOR WHAT THEY BELIVED IN, IN SPITE OF THE OPPOSITION, THEY WERE A MINORITY TO BE SURE.

Upstate New York was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Runaways slaves passed through on enroute to Canada and freedom. As many as 300 free blacks lived in Utica at the time. .

At the celebration at Hope Chapel A.M.E Zion Church members of the community gathered to learn more. Natalie Williams has lived in Utica for five years.

I WANTED TO COME AND ACTUALLY BE PART OF SOMETHING THAT WAS CELEBRATING OR AT LEAST RECOGNIZING THE TRANSITION THAT THIS COUNTRY HAS GONE THROUGH.

Historian Kathryn Silva says that moments like these in history should always be remembered.

WE OFTEN TIMES THINK THAT THE CIVIL WAR IS THE MOMENT WHEN PEOPLE STARTED THINKING ABOUT SLAVERY AND ENDING. IT TOOK MANY YEARS FOR THAT TO HAPPEN.

Emancipation did not mean equality. Reverend Gill Farnham-Us is the chair of interfaith coalition of greater Utica. She says even today the change is not complete.

 

WE ARE CONVINCED THAT IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW OUR HISTORY IF WE ARE GOING TO CHANGE OUR FUTURE, AND I’M HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THIS AREA AND BE APART OF MAKING THAT CHANGE HAPPEN.

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri proclaimed October 21st as Utica Abolition History day, a time to remember the the past and remember its effects on society today.

Ambi…singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot…

For WRVO, I’m Rashida Patrick with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

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Church Beating Victim Testifies About Ordeal

Sister Danielle

Photo Credit: Tina Russell, Utica Observer-Dispatch

This story originally aired on North Country Public Radio.

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The surviving brother in that brutal church beating in New Hartford made his first appearance in court yesterday. Christopher Leonard testified he and his brother were beaten by family members and others in the church. Lucas Leonard died from his injuries. The hearing was to determine whether the assault charge against their half-sister should go to a grand jury. Our story comes from David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

 

___________

As 17-year old Christopher Leonard entered the courtroom, he walked right past his sister Sarah Ferguson without so much as a glance. The court was arranged so they sat on opposite sides of the room, and throughout his testimony he looked at her only once, to identify her in the courtroom. Ferguson, in handcuffs and shackles, never looked up.

 

Leonard told the court the pastor of Word of Life Church, Tiffanie Irwin, asked his family to stay behind after Sunday service, so he and his brother Lucas could tell what they had done. What that refered to was not addressed in court—the district attorney says Lucas Leonard simply wanted to leave the church—but when the boys didn’t answer the Pastor’s questions, Leonard said, the meeting turned violent. He testified that the Pastor’s brother Joseph Irwin grabbed him by the shirt then punched him.

 

Who else hit you asked Assistant DA Dawn Lupe?

David Morey, Sarah, my dad and mom, he said. All have been charged with crimes in this case, including manslaughter charges against his parents Bruce and Deborah Leonard.

 

Christopher Leonard said he was –whipped- with a folded over cord about four feet long. He said his father hit him with it first, on the back.

Who else hit you, asked Lupee?

My mother and sister.

Where did Sarah hit you?

Sarah hit me everywhere except my head, he said.

 

As the packed courtroom strained to hear Leonard—he spoke so softly the defense attorney twice asked him to speak up—Leonard said after being beaten he was separated from Lucas, taken into a different room and made to wear earmuffs and headphones. Later, he saw his brother Lucas collapse. He was laying on the ground moaning, he said, and after what seemed like half an hour Pastor Tiffanie called for his mother and dad. Leonard said he knew something wasn’t right, I rushed over and saw he wasn’t breathing, he said. I tried to give him CPR.

 

After Lucas was taken to the hospital, Chris got in a van to go, too. But instead of going in, he said, they pulled into a Home Depot parking lot. He got sick, he said, and had trouble breathing. Then he was taken back to the Church where he stayed in police brought him out.

 

After the hearing, Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said this is a very active investigation and he will pursue anyone they feel has culpability in the crime.

0245 WE ARE LOOKING EVERYBODY THAT WAS INVOLVED WITH THIS INCIDENT, AND WE WILL PRESENT ALL OF THE INFORMATION THAT WE HAVE TO THE GRAND JURY, ALONG WITH THE CHARGES THAT WERE ORIGINALLY FILED AND ANY OTHER CHARGES WE FEEL ARE APPROPRIATE, AND THAT WOULD INCLUDE DEPRAVED INDIFFERENCE MURDER.

 

McNamara also commended Christopher Leonard for having the courage to testify.

 

WE ASKED HIM TO DO SOMETHING THTS VERY DIFFICULT FOR ANYONE TO DO. /I CANT IMAGE THE STRESS HE WAS UNDER TO GO INTO A COURTROOM WITH THIS MUCH MEDIA COVERAGE TO TESTIFY AGAINST HIS SISTER.

 

New Hartford Town Justice William Virkler ruled there is enough evidence to proceed. The DA says they will go to a grand jury within 45 days.

 

For … I’m David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

 

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Vigil Held to Honor Beating Death Victim

20151020-IMG_0921

Photo credit, Kevin Montano, New York Reporting Project at Utica College

This story originally aired on WRVO Oswego.

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LEAD IN

A WEEK AFTER THE BRUTAL BEATING OF TWO TEENAGE BOYS AT A CHURCH, IN NEW HARTFORD, THE COMMUNITY GATHERED LAST NIGHT FOR A CANDLELIGHT VIGIL. KEVIN MONTANO FROM THE NEW YORK REPORTING PROJECT AT UTICA COLLEGE HAS THIS STORY.

 

KEVIN

ABOUT A HUNDRED AND FIFTY PEOPLE GATHERED TUESDAY NIGHT JUST OUTSIDE THE WORD OF LIFE CHURCH.

 

THEY CAME TOGETHER TO REFLECT AND TO PRAY FOR LUCAS LEONARD WHO WAS BEATEN TO DEATH, AND HIS BROTHER CHRISTOPHER WHO IS RECOVERING FROM HIS INJURIES. THEIR PARENTS, DEBORAH AND BRUCE LEONARD HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH MANSLAUGHTER.

 

FATHER ABRAHAM ESPER IS THE PASTOR OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH…ST. PATRICK ST ANTHONYS…NEXT DOOR.

 

  1. ABRAHAM ESPER

WE COME TOGETHER AND WE PUT A FACE ON THE GRIEF AND THE FEAR THAT WE FEEL RIGHT NOW.

 

KEVIN

ELIZABETH RICHARDS LIVES JUST DOWN THE STREET FROM WORD OF LIFE.

 

ELIZABETH RICHARDS

 

I LOST A SON MANY YEARS AGO. HE WAS ABOUT THE SAME AGE AS LUCAS AND I JUST FELT LIKE I NEEDED TO BE HERE.

 

  1. ABE

AND BY PRAYING TONIGHT TO THE GOD THAT WE ALL BELIEVE IN. A GOD OF MERCY A GOD OF JUSTICE AND PEACE. IT WILL GIVE US STRENGTH AND DIRECTION AS WE GO AHEAD.

 

KEVIN

STACEY WENDELL, WHO ORGANIZED THE VIGIL, IS PUSHING TO HAVE THE CHURCH CLOSED.

 

WENDELL

WE’RE GONNA GET THIS BOY JUSTICE, WE’RE GONNA GET HIM JUSTICE.

 

 

 

 

KEVIN

THOSE GATHERED TUESDAY PRAYED NOT ONLY FOR JUSTICE BUT ALSO -PEACE- FOR THE SURVIVING BROTHER CHRISTOPHER, WHO NOW FACES HIS OWN GRIEF, AND THE ORDEAL OF A TRIAL OF HIS PARENTS.

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Graphic Details Emerge in Church Beating Death

NHCourt

Photo by Tina Russell Utica Observer-Dispatch.

This story originally aired on WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

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New Hartford police say the “counseling sessions” at the Word of Life church that ended in the beating death last week of 19–year-old Lucas Leonard, may have stemmed from the victim’s desire to leave the secretive church. Leonard and his 17- year-old brother Christopher suffered extensive injuries to the torso, back, legs and genitals. Their parents Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been charged with manslaughter, and four other church members including Lucas Leonard’s half sister, have been charged with assault. On Friday they all appeared in New Hartford town court.

Our story comes from David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

Shackled, handcuffed and wearing orange prison jumpsuits, defendants Bruce and Deborah Leonard entered a small courtroom packed with a standing room only crowd. For the next three hours they heard testimony from four police officers investigating the crime, and a dramatic eyewitness account from church member Daniel Irwin.

 

Irwin told the court that after an all-day service on Sunday, an all night “counseling session” was held in the church sanctuary with members of the Leonard family, and led by his sister Pastor Tiffanie. Irwin testified he saw Bruce Leonard strike his son Lucas multiple times in the back with what looked like a belt. He said he saw Bruce also strike his 17-year-old son Christopher Leonard as many as half a dozen times. From an adjacent room he heard more blows, he said, a strike, then wait a second, then strike again.

 

Irwin said he had gone to another part of the church building—an old public school-, but he repeatedly came back to see what was going on. The last time, he said Lucas was “rolling back and forth on the floor and making a sustained monotone moan.” Irwin saw blood on the carpet, he said, and dried blood on the back of Lucas Leonard’s leg.

 

Irwin testified he was in the residence when David Morey and Joseph Irwin—both charged with assault—came to him in a panic and said Luke was dead. When he got back to the sanctuary he saw Bruce Leonard attempting to revive his son with mouth–to-mouth resuscitation. After about 10 minutes, Daniel Irwin said, Bruce Leonard said they should take Lucas to the hospital. Nobody called 911.

 

Irwin said the session took place over the course of 14 hours, until 10 o‘clock the next morning. Asked why the session stopped, Irwin testified. ”Because Luke was dead at that point.”

 

In court, Bruce Leonard sat just feet away from the witness stand, back straight, head bowed, and for three hours of testimony never appearing to open his eyes. His wife Deborah sat at the opposite end of the witness table, hunched over, her long graying hair obscuring her face.

 

After Irwin left the stand, New York State Police Sergeant Todd Grant told the court that Deborah Leonard admitted she also hit her son, with an electric extension cord. She demonstrated how hard she hit him by slamming a computer cord on a table. She also told Grant, he said, that Sarah Ferguson—Leonard’s half sister– hit him too, angrier and harder.

 

At a press conference outside the courthouse, Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said the case will go to a grand jury within 45 days. He said additional charges are likely.

 

I ANTICIPATE WHEN WE GO TO THE GRAND JURY WE WILL ASK THE GRAND JURY TO CONSIDER THESE CHARGES AND OTHER CHARGES AGAINST THESE INDIVIDUALS AND OTHER INDIVIDUALS. WE ARE LOOKING AT EVERYBODY THAT’S INVOLVED AND ANY OTHER CHARGES WE THINK WOULD BE APPROPRIATE BASED ON THE FACTS WE CAN PROVE IN COURT.

 

 

Christopher Leonard remains hospitalized and is cooperating with authorities.

 

For WAMC, I’m David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

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Bucking National Trend, CNY College Lowers Tuition

_boldmove1902

Photo courtesy of Jamie Callari, Utica College

This story originally aired on WRVO Oswego.

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UticaCollegeTuitionWAMC

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While the cost of a higher education has continued to rise across the region, one small private college in Upstate NY is attempting to buck that trend. Kevin Montano from the New York Reporting Project at Utica College has this story.

 

The affordability of college education has come under increased scrutiny from lawmakers and parents alike. Utica College President Todd Hutton announced plans yesterday to help change that.

 

It gives me great honor to share with you that begingni the fall of 2016 uc will reset its published price of tuition and fees from 35514 to under 20 thousand dollars.

 

And that’s before financial aid.

Few students actually pay the full shot, but the published price can produce sticker shock, and keep some from even applying. Hutton says cutting tuition is the right thing to do.

 

Americans need to know that a quality higher education is within their financial reach. We know, and I see it every year, that students cant afford to come here, or when they get here, something happens and they can’t to stay. That’s just not right.

 

 

On a campus where graduates average 40 thousand dollars in debt, the announcement was big news. Madison Babbits is a freshman.

 

I’m going to have a little less debt when I graduate.//Any money I’m saving is a good thing.

 

The amount students save will vary depending on their financial aid, but all will save at least a thousand dollars a year. While state and federal aid remains the same, the college makes the budget work by proportionally reducing the grants –it- offers.

 

That will cost the school about two million dollars the first year. But after years of increasing enrollment and a record freshman class, college officials say now is the time to make the investment.

 

Vice president for enrollment Dr. Jeffrey Gates says the college will make up some cost by retaining students who otherwise would have left U.C.

 

They’re leaving because they have a gap of 1500 hundred dollars or 2 thousand or even 3 thousand dollars and that’s just too much of a burden to bear.

 

A tuition reset isn’t without risk; in fact most of the schools that have tried it have failed. But after two years of study and analysis, the college feels now is the time to fix a pricing model that’s broken.

 

For WAMC News, I’m Kevin Montano with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College