07/20/11 — Plan to merge colleges will not hit Wayne Community College

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Plan to merge colleges will not hit Wayne Community College

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 20, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne Community College is not on the list of 26 community colleges in the state being considered for consolidation, but that doesn't mean the local institution won't be facing sweeping changes if the plan comes to fruition.

Earlier this week, Gov. Bev Perdue called upon the General Assembly to reject a proposal merging dozens of mostly rural community colleges with larger institutions. Among those on the proposed list are James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville, Wilson Community College, Sampson Community College in Clinton and Nash Community College in Rocky Mount.

While WCC did not make the list, it is considered one to be merged with, said Dr. Kay Albertson, WCC president.

The potential move is all about money, she said, as an efficiency study proposes the changes would save $5.1 million a year.

"I do believe that the 58 institutions (in the state) could find a way to save $5.1 million together," she said. "But right now what has happened is the committee that originally looked at the consolidation -- the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee -- they took the report last Wednesday and they recommended, not unanimously, but they could recommend that."

Mrs. Albertson said that it is her hope, and she believes that of the other colleges in the state system, that the proposal will not pass when put to the vote by the General Assembly.

"I think there are enough voices out there among the General Assembly, certainly the governor is opposed to it and local government is opposed to it," she said Tuesday. "I'm hoping that it will go away."

The consolidation effort, she said, is an unnecessary "distraction" -- to taxpayers as well as employees and administration at the colleges.

"With all of the national movement for us to graduate with credentialed people, if you take out community colleges, that's simply not going to happen," she said. "It's absolutely essential that post-secondary education be on everybody's resume."

The community college not only is a "great segue" for high school students, but offers training that leads directly to jobs and is in position to respond to the national movement for technical vocational training, Mrs. Albertson said. Its role in a community cannot be underestimated, she said.

"This college means so much to the community," she said. "We provide services that no other entity could provide and particularly is that true in the smaller rural communities."

In addition to boasting a quality academic program, the college also serves as a gathering place for many community events throughout the year.

Although right now the outcome is "pretty much out of our hands," Mrs. Albertson speculated on what might happen if the consolidation moved forward.

"What this program evaluation research group came up with a plan, hypothetically, they looked at the colleges that surround the larger college and made suppositions," she said. "For example, Wilson or a James Sprunt could coordinate with a WCC or Edgecombe Community College, which is on the list. What that would mean, though, is a merger of all the administrative functions.

"The colleges not on the list would still face tremendous change -- no guarantee that Kay Albertson would be president, no guarantee that the board of trustees would be the same -- so we would stand to lose perhaps employees. And the other thing that would occur is that the local governments that supply the dollars for our buildings and our facilities, the money that comes from the community colleges, would be tenuous."

Mrs. Albertson said she finds it "interesting" that the lawmakers suggest the move would prompt less need for administrative staff.

"If Wayne absorbed the financial oversight of a college that's almost our size, we can't do the same thing with our financial people that we do right now," she said. "We would have to have additional people."

Another misnomer, she said, is that no programs would be affected.

"That's not going to be the case," she said. "No college could be comprehensive with that kind of merger. Wayne could continue to be a comprehensive college offering a vast number of offerings but James Sprunt could not. ... People would be losing jobs, educational programs would be affected."

That "trickle-down effect" has not been addressed, she said.

Credit has also not been given to the support the surrounding communities give to "their" college, she added.

"The mantra of real estate has always been 'location, location, location,'" she said. "The mantra of the community college is 'community, community, community.'"

Despite the economic downturn recently, enrollment at the college has "shot up" to record highs and WCC recently raised $88,000 for student scholarships through its annual golf tournament.

"You cannot even imagine that same kind of loyalty, that same kind of commitment would continue to be there (if colleges consolidated) because you build that respect and camaraderie by the kind of things you do on a daily basis," she said. "We would lose so much of the identity, so much of that community spirit.

"When I wrote my letter opposed to it, opposed to the consolidation -- it really is closing of colleges. They're not saying that but it is."

The proposal, she said, would ultimately strip institutions of a lot of oversight by administration, which is a necessity.

Mrs. Albertson said she does not want to minimize the need to save $5.1 million. While decidedly a "significant amount of money," she said she believes that systemwide, if everyone put their heads together, a less "drastic" solution could be found.

The current situation is an ironic twist, she pointed out, at a time when the community college system has reached an enviable position.

"We're in the top three in the entire nation," she said. "North Carolina is looked at as a model for all the other states. We're educating 900,000 students every year. ...

"I personally know that this is going to continue to come up and be talked about. I'm really hoping that the General Assembly sees that this is not in the best interest in the state of North Carolina."