ANOTHER sensible idea emanating from Raleigh …

This is getting kinda scary. 

Some in the GOP legislative majority are proposing merging several small community colleges in order to save the state some money.   Florence and Darlington Counties in South Carolina have done well — for AGES — with Florence-Darlington Technical College.  The communities of Northern Virginia have done well with a regional Northern Virginia Community College system.  If our neighbors to the north and south have survived with this method in play, why can’t we?

Jay Schalin, director of state policy at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, had a great opinion piece in the New & Observer defending this concept:

 … One proposal – to establish purchasing consortiums – would save a relatively small amount (initially $70,000 per year) by marshalling the community colleges’ collective bargaining power. Ralls readily accepted this proposal at the committee meeting. However, Mary Kirk, the president of Montgomery Community College and of the N.C. Association of Community College Presidents, objected to the proposal’s intent to centralize some purchasing functions.

The other idea – to reduce the number of community colleges by merging small colleges – is much more promising. It would save roughly $5.1 million on an annual basis, largely due to the elimination of administrative positions made redundant by the mergers. Larger schools are generally more efficient to administer than small schools; the average amount spent on administration per student at schools with fewer than 3,000 students is $983 but only $687 at larger campuses.

Of the 26 community colleges with low enrollments, 22 are within a 30-mile range of another school, making mergers geographically feasible According to the report’s principal researcher, Catherina Moga Bryant, merging those 22 schools with their most appropriate neighbors would include seven mergers between two small colleges, meaning there would be 15 mergers in all.

The mergers also could create another $3.5 million in downstream savings, by joining small business centers or child-care centers, or sharing equipment and instructional resources.

But the mergers do not mean campuses would shut down. Rather, when two schools merge, the administrative offices will be located at the larger campus, while the smaller campus will continue to offer courses as a multi-campus center…

Of course, the bureaucrats are fighting this idea.  It shrinks their turf:

Board members, presidents, trustees and administrators sounded a chorus against the idea put forward last month in an analysis by the legislature’s Program Evaluation Division. The report suggested reducing the number of small community colleges through 15 mergers involving 22 colleges to save an estimated $5.1 million a year.

That $5 million is the equivalent of one position at each of the 58 community colleges, or four-hundredths of 1 percent of the $1.3 billion state budget for the system, said Kennon Briggs, executive vice president and chief of staff.

That amount of savings is not worth transforming the system and eroding local support around North Carolina, said Scott Ralls, president of the system.

“Community colleges are much more than places where classes take place,” he said. “They’re the hubs of leadership; they’re the beacons of economic hope, and they’re the catalyst for things happening in many communities where they don’t see a lot of things positive happening. To take that out of our communities at this point in time for $5.1 million … doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

So, the education bureaucrats don’t want to pitch in and help balance the state budget, which is choking North Carolina in debt and putting the citizenry’s future at risk.  They believe WE just need to pay more to keep them in business.

Supporters of the merger idea quickly fired back:

This week, a legislative panel forwarded the proposal to an education oversight committee for further review. Members said the consolidation idea merited a serious look.

Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican, said there was “premature angst” about the issue. Combining the administrative staffs of colleges could allow the state to educate more students, he said.

“I think the people of North Carolina are proud of their community college system,” he said. “They feel that way because it provides a valuable service in educating the public. I don’t think there’s much concern over whether the community college president lives in their county or town.”

The report said colleges with fewer than 3,000 students are inefficient. Across the state, costs range from $447 to $1,679 per student at various colleges, depending on their size.

The report recommended that smaller colleges be combined with larger ones to save on administrative costs, so that there would be only one president’s salary, one business office, one financial aid office for two sites.

“Sometimes bigger is simply better, and bigger is more efficient,” Lewis said. “That’s what our research has shown.”

Another proposal to save money is to reroute college students to community colleges and away from state colleges and universities, for their first two years.  After they successfully complete their basic requirements over the first two year period, they can transfer over to a larger college or university to complete their specialty degree courses.  Community colleges appear to like this, and are incorporating the concept into their marketing plans.  Studies HAVE shown that community colleges can educate students at a much lower cost than the universities.  Having only juniors and seniors at state universities would lessen the financial burden on those schools.  They could likely cut overhead and cut tuition, as a result.

Let’s hope both of these ideas get implemented successfully.  Our state is a financial mess.  What we’ve been doing has not worked.  You know what they say about continuing to do something that doesn’t work, over and over again, expecting a different result each time …