College Merger: False Economy
The idea of merging the administrations of some of North Carolina's community colleges has some merit and perhaps doesn't deserve to be dismissed out of hand.
On the surface, at least, 58 separate community college campuses do seem like a gracious plenty for one state, and there has got to be a lot of administrative duplication. Combining some of the functions of some of those schools would produce certain efficiencies of scale by spreading some of that overhead around.
Still, we tend to agree on balance with Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, who told The Pilot this week that the proposed changes would be "a very misguided policy."
Dempsey knows what he's talking about, though one can't help wondering if his public opposition might be motivated at some level by a gentlemanly reluctance to appear too greedy. After all, his flagship college would be one of those gaining if the change were put into effect, while a couple of small neighboring colleges, those in Montgomery and Richmond counties, might be at least partially absorbed into his.
'Beacons of Hope'
The proposal now stirring up tempests of controversy around the state came from a legislative study committee looking for ways to save money in this time of budgetary stress. The panel recommended merging 15 of the smallest units of the system into larger ones located 30 miles or less away.
The widespread negative reaction to this proposal, with many key figures in the system echoing Dempsey's concerns, should come as no surprise, given the number of oxen that stand to be gored.
Scott Ralls, president of the community college system, set the tone by flatly labeling it a bad idea. "Community colleges are much more than places where classes take place," he said. "They're the hubs of leadership. They're they beacons of economic hope. And they are the catalyst for things happening in many communities where they don't see a lot of positive things happening."
Savings Is Paltry
There's no denying that. In many places, the local community college is the only meaningful steppingstone offering residents of a depressed area an opportunity to get a foot up and better their lives. And one justification for having so many of them is that each tailors its education offering to the entities holding out the best local job prospects, be they agriculture operations, industrial plants or resort and recreational facilities.
Of course, a consolidation of certain administrative functions wouldn't necessarily gut the course offerings, since the plan does not envision the closing of any campuses. And some observers may wonder why the community college system should insist on immunity from the economy measures that are being imposed on everyone else in the state, including the university system.
For us, though, the bottom line in this argument is - well, the bottom line. Even those in the legislature pushing for this change do not claim that it will produce more than a relatively paltry $5 million in annual savings - or less than one-half of 1 percent of the system's operating budget. That doesn't seem nearly enough to justify all the turmoil and disruption involved.
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