Merger proposal moved

Published 1:51 am Friday, July 15, 2011

Daily News Staff

A legislative committee has moved forward a study that suggests possible mergers of small community colleges across the state.

Beaufort County Community College is one of the institutions that could be merged with a larger college if the study’s recommendations are made law.

On Wednesday morning the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee endorsed further exploration of the recommendations.

The committee asked that legislation be drafted to reflect the recommendations, said a legislative staff member in Raleigh.

“It really is just a report at this stage,” said Catherine Moga Bryant, senior program evaluator with the N.C. General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division.

The division published the report last month.

Once drafted, the legislation would have to be approved by the state House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Beverly Perdue, Bryant pointed out.

The committee took a voice vote on the study, but the vote was not unanimous, she confirmed.

The exact for-against tallies couldn’t be determined because a roll call wasn’t taken, she said.

Repeated attempts to obtain comments from committee members, including co-chairmen and Sens. Debbie Clary, R-Cleveland, and Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, were unsuccessful.

BCCC is one of 22 small community colleges statewide targeted for possible merger with another community college in the report.

The report suggests merging BCCC with community colleges in Martin and Pitt counties.

The report indicates the state could save as much as $5.1 million annually and $3.5 million in additional savings by finishing 15 community college mergers by 2018.

It also estimates a savings of $1.8 million over seven years through a statewide community college purchasing consortium.

Lawmakers directed the Program Evaluation Division to conduct the study in a 2009 appropriations bill, Bryant related.

“It specifically asked us to look at consolidation,” she said.

The study focused on administrative efficiencies, Bryant continued.

A working group assigned by the N.C. Community College System would be tasked with developing a plan and methodology for carrying out the recommendations, she said.

“If legislation was passed requiring mergers, all those things could be discussed and worked out in the process,” Bryant said.

Community college system officials have come out against mergers, though they favor the purchasing consortium concept.

David McLawhorn, president of BCCC, fears implementing the recommendations could lead to a virtual closure of some small community colleges.

The state has 58 community colleges, but 15 of those would be made satellite campuses of larger schools, McLawhorn said.

“If you take 15 from 58, what have you got?” he asked. “You’ve got 43 community colleges.”

The smaller colleges would lose their presidents and boards of trustees, and counties might take less interest in helping to fund these schools, McLawhorn has observed.

If BCCC were merged with Pitt Community College, PCC would make decisions about which programs would be offered on the Washington campus, he said.

“What you’re becoming – you’re losing your charter,” he commented. “If that’s not closing a community college, I don’t know what is.”

The report notes that small community colleges have higher administrative costs per full-time-enrolled student than larger colleges, though it also notes community colleges’ administrative costs are low when compared to the state’s universities.