Proposal to merge community colleges criticized

Posted July 13, 2011 6:36 p.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2011 10:03 a.m. EDT

— Lawmakers are considering consolidating some of North Carolina's 58 community colleges to save money, but college officials panned the idea Wednesday.

A recent legislative study found that the community college system is inefficient because each of the campuses is locally autonomous. They lack uniform policies and procedures, and administrative costs per student are about 50 percent higher at smaller colleges, according to the study.

Merging colleges with fewer than 3,000 students into larger campuses nearby could save the state more than $5 million a year by 2018 by combining back-office functions like payroll and information technology and eliminating some administrative positions, according to the study.

"It would be devastating to our citizens and our students," Charlotte Griffin, board chairwoman at Martin Community College, in Williamston, told a legislative oversight committee.

Johnston Community College is large enough that it wouldn't be directly impacted by the proposal, but President David Johnson said he felt compelled to speak out against the idea of creating more multi-campus colleges.

"If we're changing a name and we're merging a campus with another, you are closing that institution," Johnson told lawmakers.

Sen. Debbie Clary, the chairwoman of the oversight committee, said the details of any consolidation plan haven't been worked out yet.

"No one has talked about closing a college. No one has talked about taking the identity of a local community college," said Clary, R-Cleveland. "I think there's been a lot of emotion generated, and when that happens, there's a lot of false rhetoric."

Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System, said he worries about the lack of details.

"We heard things today that were not necessarily in the report," Ralls said after the meeting. "It just means a lot more analysis needs to go into it."