BCCC ID’d for merger?

Published 1:39 am Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beaufort County Community College is one of 22 small community colleges across the state identified for possible merger with another community college in a report presented Tuesday to state legislators.
The report, titled “Purchasing Consortiums and Merging Community Colleges Could Save $26.2 Million Over Seven Years,” points toward merging Beaufort County Community College with community colleges in Martin and Pitt counties.
The report also suggests possible mergers of BCCC and Martin Community College with colleges in Edgecombe and Pitt counties and merging Pamlico Community College with community colleges in Craven and Carteret counties.
The report indicates the state could save as much as $5.1 million annually and $3.5 million in additional savings by completing 15 mergers by 2018.
It also estimates a savings of $1.8 million over seven years through a statewide community-college purchasing group.
The 32-page report estimates that by merging smaller community colleges and establishing a system of statewide purchases, the state could reap an estimated $26.2 million in savings over seven years.
It was presented to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, which is comprised of 17 members of the N.C. Senate and House of Representatives, by John W. Turcotte, director of the Program Evaluation Division of the Legislative Services Office.
The report was authored in response to a 2009 session-law directive from the Legislature.
Calls to committee members and Sens. Debbie Clary, R-Cleveland, and Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, weren’t returned Wednesday.
The president of the state Community College System and presidents of some of the colleges identified for merger, including BCCC President David McLawhorn, oppose the plan.
Merging the state’s smaller community colleges with neighboring institutions would not save the state a significant amount of money, but doing so would dramatically change the nature of the community colleges in North Carolina, according to R. Scott Ralls, president of the N.C. Community College System.
Agencies across the state, including the community-college system, are looking for ways to be more efficient during the current economic downturn, Ralls said in an interview.
The merger of small community colleges would “be a very, very drastic step for not a great deal of savings,” he said.
“I would think that before you change the nature of our community colleges, you would look for other savings,” he said.
The proposition would be a loser for counties, McLawhorn indicated.
“If people will look at this in more depth than what this committee did, they will find there’s a lot of fallacies in their results and what they’re recommending,” he commented. “The bottom line is that in this situation the state wins and the counties lose. The end result of the consolidation is that, sure, the state administrative costs would go down minimally, but the counties lose control and governance of their local community colleges.”
If one scenario emerging from the study were implemented, BCCC wouldn’t have its own president or local board of trustees, according to McLawhorn. Instead, the campus would operate under the supervision of a dean or vice president that reports to the president of Pitt Community College.
“What you have then is you don’t have the local investment,” he said. “When you lose the governance in your local community college, it’s almost like you’re disinherited and the support will wane.”
The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee meets July 19 to make a final decision on this issue, McLawhorn wrote in an email.
“It’s just now coming out to the public, their recommendation,” he explained in an interview. “I was anticipating a lot of opposition, particularly to their recommendation as far as a merger of smaller community colleges with larger community colleges.”
Beaufort County’s legislative delegation also opposes at least some of the changes called for in the study report.
“What I know about it at this time, I would probably oppose it,” said Sen. Stan White, D-Dare. “I’ll be honest with you: I don’t know a whole lot. I have not had time to read the report.”
Based on what he knows about the report, White said, he couldn’t favor it.
“Certainly a lot of times there’s advantages to consolidation, but sometimes those consolidations don’t work too well, I would think especially in the northeast where geographically the community colleges are a long way away from each other,” he said.
Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, also hadn’t seen the report, but wasn’t encouraged by much of what he had heard or read about the document.
“Seems to me that what they’re talking about here are synergies,” he said. “Back when I had a real job in the business world, synergies were real important. If you could get synergies, you could save money.”
Clearly, the lawmakers looking into this issue are hoping to save money, Cook observed.
“However, there’s a conflicting problem here as far as I’m concerned,” he continued, adding that “local things should have local control.”
“If you don’t have local control for local things, it’s a prescription for problems somewhere along the line,” Cook said. “I’m for local community colleges, particularly the smaller ones, having control over what they’re doing. I don’t think one size fits all.”
Cook does see potential benefits in small community colleges pooling their resources through purchasing to increase their buying power. He also sees merit in centralizing some accounting services.
But Cook maintains real, long-term savings couldn’t be gained by replacing community college presidents with local deans under the leadership of a college president in a nearby county.
“There couldn’t be that much difference in their salaries — no real money anyway,” he said. “The savings has got to be in purchasing and accounting and all those administrative things that could be centralized and made cheaper.”
The report touts significant savings in administrative costs by combining community colleges with fewer than 3,000 full-time equivalent students, or FTEs, with another community college less than 30 miles away.
It also predicts significant savings if community colleges join together to buy equipment and supplies through an organized group.
While presidents at about 20 of the state’s community colleges, in letters to Turcotte, largely supported a system of statewide purchases, they unanimously opposed the plan to merge the state’s small community colleges with neighboring ones.

They contend administrative cost savings found by merging community colleges will be minimal. They predict that local-government support and funding for community colleges will drop if colleges are merged. And they predict that community-college students will have to travel greater distances to find the courses they need if smaller colleges are forced to merge with others.

Contributing Writer Betty Mitchell Gray and Staff Writer Jonathan Clayborne authored this report.