“Proposal To Merge NC Community Colleges Will Devastate Rural Communities,” Says Wake Tech President

 By Debbi Gardiner McCullough 

As part of statewide budget cuts; a new legislative efficiency report created by the state legislature says North Carolina's community colleges could save $5 million annually by shifting payroll departments, administrative offices and the role of president from smaller campuses to nearby larger ones.  The report also promises savings of $30 million over six years for the state by creating a purchasing cooperative to receive volume discounts.

No decision has been made yet about the merger proposal, but community college leaders are adamant that the fallout for small and rural communities could be catastrophic. 

Dr. Stephen Scott, President of Wake Technical Community College, the state’s second largest community college, shares his concerns about the proposal with VisionPoint Marketing:

What are the positives you see to the new proposed legislation?

A possible $5 million annual savings for the state is nice. Creating a purchasing cooperative could also make sense, if done properly. We recently worked with a state-sponsored consortium when buying dental lamps for our dental hygiene program.  It cost $14,000 more than working directly with the manufacturer. We are definitely open to new models — but they must save money.

What are the drawbacks?

These suggested changes mean less than one half of one percent of the annual budget to be allocated by the state to its community colleges is saved, yet one third of our community colleges will be severely disrupted.

Removing jobs from community colleges will tear out the heart of these rural communities. I've been president of two smaller community colleges, including 11 years at Southeastern Community College in Columbus County — so I've seen firsthand how important community colleges become to smaller towns. Columbus County was historically tobacco farming and then evolved to include other agriculture. By removing college employment, the alliances and agreements formed with small businesses there will be hurt too.

Why has this come to a head?

Community colleges are hot.  Enrollments are up— and North Carolina is no exception. Roughly 10,000 of our 65,000 students take our courses for university credit transfer. Wake Tech courses cost 20% of the university rate. Additionally, we have 40,000 continuing education students seeking additional employment.  Approximately 18,000 of this group already have at least a bachelor’s degree.  The courses they take often help find new jobs: Computer studies are popular, along with entrepreneurship, healthcare related courses including nursing, medical record training and medical coding. Simulations and gaming are also popular courses because those areas are hiring and growing. 

Why did this legislative report become a national news story?

The rest of the nation is watching to see if North Carolina uses budget shortages to consolidate small community colleges.

What will happen next?

Members of the Legislature meet this Wednesday to discuss possible courses of action. The real issue is will North Carolina disrupt 15 of its 58 colleges to save only one half of one percent of the annual budget?  We truly hope not.

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