07/21/11 — James Sprunt Community College worried about consolidation aftermath

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James Sprunt Community College worried about consolidation aftermath

By Aaron Moore
Published in News on July 21, 2011 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- With talk in the General Assembly of consolidating some of the state's smaller, more rural community colleges, officials at James Sprunt Community College are bracing for the unknown.

The proposal, which would merge some programs at 26 community colleges with larger ones, is designed to streamline the community college system and save each institution around $5 million per year, officials said.

But James Sprunt President Dr. Lawrence Rouse said his school's identity could be at stake.

Rouse said that currently every school is autonomous, able to decide what classes it should offer to meet the needs of the students in its area. At James Sprunt, for example, which is located in the heart of farm country, the focus is largely on agriculture.

But should the college be placed under a different board of trustees and other officials who might not be from Duplin County, Rouse said it's unclear how James Sprunt might change.

"We're trying to utilize the local economy," he said. "I think that would be kind of lost in the shuffle. You would lose that autonomy."

Rouse said he didn't know which college James Sprunt would be consolidated with, but Wayne Community College, Lenoir Community College and Sampson Community College are options.

And while Rouse said there could be some benefits to such mergers of programs, he said the proposal undermines the original idea of the community college system.

He used James Sprunt's agriculture kitchen as an example. The kitchen offers a place for entrepreneurs to develop food products from meat and produce, bringing business to Duplin County's agriculture-based economy.

But if agriculture students had to take classes at another school 40 miles away, they might not find courses available that would be most helpful to their career goals.

Rouse added that it's still not clear how the consolidation would affect where students take classes.

"This is kind of one of those things when change comes and you're just not prepared for it. I think our faculty and staff are more toward not merging," Rouse said. But he added, "This is at a time when we know funds are tight."

Rouse said pride is also at stake for some of the faculty at James Sprunt. James Sprunt has been ranked among the top 10 community colleges in the nation and is the 35th fastest growing community college in the nation.

"Evidently we're doing something right," Rouse said, adding that he fears lawmakers are overlooking his school's accomplishments in the effort to cut state spending. The school has added much to the economy in and around Duplin, he said, and it would be a shame to lose the edge that the school affords students living in the immediate area.