ICC could be affected by state move to merge community colleges

Published 9:45 am Thursday, July 14, 2011

Polk issues resolution against merger proposal
North Carolina officials are reportedly considering merging small community colleges as a cost-saving measure, and Polk County’s Isothermal Community College (ICC) and ICC-Spindale are among the colleges that could be affected.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners Monday, July 11 approved a resolution against the merger of small community colleges.
Polk County Chairman Ray Gasperson, who serves on the ICC board of trustees, said he was shocked when he heard about the state’s recommendation, which could mean Polk County would no longer have a community college.
“Frankly, I was just shocked,” Gasperson said. “Every time I go to a meeting they talk about how enrollment is booming.”
Gasperson said it seems un-imaginable, but the proposal is another thing the state is considering to save money.
The N.C. Program Evaluation Division, a state agency charged with identifying efficiencies and cost savings in state government, recommended that all small colleges be merged with larger colleges by 2018.
Another recommendation by the program evaluation division is for colleges to develop purchasing consortiums to negotiate better pricing with existing vendors.
The purchasing recommendation could save the college system $270,000 per year, according to the report, while merging small colleges into larger ones would be an annual savings of $5 million by 2018 in administrative costs.
Small colleges are defined in North Carolina as those with fewer than 3,000 students. Of the state’s 58 colleges, 22 are considered small.
No action has been taken on the recommendation. The report recommends that the N.C. General Assembly direct the system office to come up with a plan by Jan. 1, 2012 to merge the colleges.
The report identifies other colleges within 30 miles as institutions for potential mergers. ICC-Polk and ICC-Spindale could potentially merge with some combination of McDowell Tech, Cleveland and Western Piedmont Community Colleges.
Polk County budgets approximately $130,000 annually to ICC-Polk, and Rutherford County budgets close to $2 million for ICC-Spindale, according to figures given at Polk’s commissioner meeting on July 11.
Gasperson said he’s heard that when the economy is down, local community colleges serve as an emergency room, meaning the colleges help train and retrain new individuals for jobs.
“If anything, more funding is needed,” Gasperson said.
The state committee is set to continue its discussion during a meeting sometime this month.

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