North Carolina could save $5.1 million a year by merging small community colleges with larger neighbors, but legislators are split on the idea and community college leaders are opposed.
North Carolina has 58 “quasi-independent” community colleges, with 162 campuses and off-campus centers in 91 counties, according to a report on cost-cutting options. Full-time equivalent enrollment ranges from 624 at Pamlico Community College to 16,200 at Central Piedmont. Smaller schools typically have higher administrative costs per student.
Fifteen colleges with fewer than 3,000 students could be merged with a larger college less than 30 miles away, the report suggests.
Senator Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, teaches at a community college. He said trying to yoke schools in neighboring counties together is “opening a Pandora’s Box.” Hise said different counties are on different rotations for property tax evaluations, and schools relying on two or three of them would likely get the short end of the budgeting stick from all of them.
Community colleges are “easily the most efficient” of any of the state’s educational systems, “and the most underfunded, too,” said Senate co-chairman Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus. However Hartsell said he’d consider the recommendations.
With gas prices high, students may be reluctant to drive farther for college classes.
Breanna Justice, who’s studying to be a surgical tech at Blue Ridge Community College, may drop out if Blue Ridge merges with Asheville-Buncombe Tech.
She has two small children and says driving to Asheville would mean less time with them and more time at the gas pump.
Blue Ridge President Molly Parkhill says the community college works closely with local employers to meet workforce needs. Moving to another location would make it harder to serve the community.