North Carolina Debates Proposal to Merge 22 Community Colleges

June 29, 2011

A new report by the research arm of the North Carolina General Assembly suggests merging several of the state's smaller community colleges with larger ones to save $5 million. The report, written by the legislature's non-partisan Program Evaluation Division, has the state's community college system up in arms, and looking for other ways to cut costs.

Under the proposal, 22 small colleges (defined as institutions with enrollments under 3,000 full-time students) would become satellites of larger colleges nearby. Boards of trustees and advisors would be merged, allowing the state to save money on administration and staff. No campuses would be closed in the consolidations.

Scott Ralls, president of the state's community college system, says mergers would hurt colleges' ability to provide programs uniquely suited to their communities. Part of the strength of the system, he said, is the relationship each college has with local leadership and business owners, allowing them to tailor their services to the needs of students. "They're not just places where classes occur," said Ralls. "They're hubs of local leadership."

Ralls said the legislature often brings up proposals to consolidate colleges in the system when the economy is down, but "not to this extent." He says he is taking the proposal seriously, and is looking into other ways to cut costs. For now, he is hopeful that new measures to streamline the college's remedial and technical education programs, which go into effect next fall, will provide significant savings. But he's confident he can find $5 million in cuts if he needs. Last year, the system worked with legislators to make $115 million in reductions.

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