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Possible Merger of NC Community Colleges Could Save Millions of Dollars

Jul 13, 2011

Tough economic times have forced everyone, from individuals to corporations to higher education institutions, to look for ways to balance budgets and save money. For North Carolina community colleges, some claim savings could come in the way of a merger between smaller and larger schools. The Education Insider takes a look at the positives and negatives of this plan.

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By Harrison Howe

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Merging and Saving

Currently, community colleges in NC are independent institutions, with their own presidents, payrolls and other administrators. The smallest is Pamlico Community College, with a student population of 624, and the largest is Central Piedmont Community College, which enrolls more than 16,000. The state's community college system is the third-largest in the United States.

According to a state legislative report released in June 2011, having larger community colleges take over many of the administrative functions of smaller schools (3,000 students or less) could save $30 million over a 6-year period. The savings would come largely from eliminating, among other positions, presidents and payroll departments from the smaller institutions.

The plan calls for merging 15 of the smaller community colleges with the larger schools in the system. The report stresses that no campuses in the NC community college system would close. 'What would change is the number of administrators,' Catherine Moga Bryant, the author of the report, told the Winston-Salem Journal in June.

The plan to merge higher education institutions is not a new one. A merger between the Connecticut State University and Connecticut Community Colleges systems was approved in May and took place on July 1st. Legislators in that state claim such a merger will save $4.3 million a year.

Some Remain 'Totally Opposed' to Merger

Even the promise of saving money has not warmed everyone to the merger proposal.

'I am totally opposed to the consolidation and merger idea,' Montgomery Community College President Mary Kirk told the Winston-Salem Journal. She cites the negative impact on rural students, who might not 'have access to the same level of affordable education and training' after a merger, as the reason for her opposition. Kirk also emphasizes that the system as it runs now is efficient.

Others, including Community College System President Scott Ralls, feel the potential disruption caused by a merger would not be worth the money being saved. With spending cuts looming due to expected reductions in funding, Ralls argues that there might be other ways to save money than taking on the costs such a merger would certainly incur.

Ralls, like Kirk, also feels that the system is efficient. 'The fact that only $5 million would be saved by consolidating 15 community colleges speaks directly to the lean nature of our colleges,' he said, as reported by newsobserver.com.

For now, a decision on the idea is postponed.

Everyone is feeling the financial pinch in these tough economic times; public universities across the country continue to look for ways to save money and balance their budgets.

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