Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which has seen a 30 percent drop in enrollment in its career and technical education courses in the past five years, said the state should allow greater flexibility in how it charges so that it could reach more students at a cheaper rate.
The recommendation comes from a report issued Friday by its task force; the findings will be shared with education officials and lawmakers in coming weeks.
Regent Roger Tilles said Monday that he supports the proposed changing of Eastern Suffolk BOCES' fees; if the group could reach more students that way, "so much the better," he said.
Eastern Suffolk BOCES, headquartered in Patchogue, wants to expand by offering some classes at local school districts, rather than having students travel off-campus. It currently runs such a pilot program in Hampton Bays, where students interested in a career in early childhood education can work at an on-site child care program.
"They are getting outstanding experience," said Gary D. Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES. But, he said, "We are forced to charge students in the program the same tuition we charge in the [BOCES] center," although the cost for on-site instruction is actually less.
Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which has lost some 700 students in the past five years, charges schools roughly $12,000 per student, per year, Bixhorn said. And while districts receive state reimbursement for a portion of the bill, it's still a steep cost.
The task force also recommended that New York establish a career and technical education "pathway to graduation" for students who don't want a traditional Regents diploma.
The state Board of Regents has been considering such a move for months and is also weighing the merits of a separate pathway for students focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
Tilles said he is hopeful that the concept becomes a reality.
He predicts it will, as long as it doesn't become a "track" for students, limiting their options.
The push for new types of diplomas comes as state and national leaders -- including President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- say there are not enough skilled workers to fill the high-wage jobs that will proliferate across the country in coming years.
Eastern Suffolk BOCES also has an image problem, said Julie Davis Lutz, its deputy superintendent for educational services and a task force co-chairperson.
"We went into this whole thing thinking it was . . . all about the money and that districts couldn't afford to send students," she said. "But it is much more complex than that."
She said the program suffers from a "lack of understanding" among students, their teachers and counselors of the benefits of such a "rigorous, relevant, hands-on education."
Schools should recommend the program to a wider swath of students and Eastern Suffolk BOCES should expand its higher-level offerings to attract more participants, the task force said.