Merger opponents unite

Published 1:06 am Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Governor sides with opponents of college merger proposal

Opponents of a legislative proposal to merge small community colleges with larger institutions have won the support of a powerful ally.

In a news release Monday, Gov. Beverly Perdue came out against the merger proposal.

If made law, the proposal could result in the merger of Beaufort County Community College with Pitt Community College.

A number of local leaders have said the merger would strip BCCC of its president, its Board of Trustees and perhaps county funding, placing it under the PCC banner and stripping it of its identity.

“Community colleges are important economic drivers for their individual communities,” Perdue said. “They are crucial partners in growing jobs, especially in rural areas. Local control is essential for addressing local needs, particularly in the areas of job creation, training and economic development. To merge rural community colleges is to move our education system backwards. The General Assembly should reject that proposal.”

On July 13, the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee approved a merger  study for consideration by other committees in the Legislature, and asked that legislation be drafted to reflect the study’s recommendations.

The Legislature’s Program Evaluation Division authored the study, released in June. It points toward merging state community colleges with fewer than 3,000 full-time students, of which 22 are sited within 30 miles of a neighboring community college.

The division projects the mergers would “increase administrative efficiencies and could save up to $5.1 million annually.”

“North Carolina’s community college system is absolutely crucial to our economic development engine — I cannot say this loudly enough,” Perdue said. “I have talked to hundreds of companies that specifically choose North Carolina because they know the local community colleges will train the workers they need. These companies bring jobs to our people and, in turn, the community colleges provide companies with skilled, ready workers.”

Mitch St. Clair is chairman of the BCCC Board of Trustees.

“I think community colleges, historically, were actually designed for the communities in the surrounding areas — that’s what they’ve been and that’s what they’ve grown to be,” St. Clair said Tuesday.

He urged Beaufort County residents to call lawmakers and voice opposition to the study’s conclusions.

Beaufort County’s legislative delegation — Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and Sen. Stan White, D-Dare — already have come out against the mergers.