Locals request study on Collins#039; college creation

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 2004

Lawrence County Commissioners Tuesday were emphatic: They support Collins Career Center's proposal for the creation of a community college.

The commissioners formally requested a study of that proposal.

Members of the Board of Regents' staff attended Tuesday's commission meeting to talk to local leaders.

Email newsletter signup

Both sides agree higher education is key to Lawrence County and Ohio's economic future. But they so far do not agree that creating a new community college should be part of the state's long-range economic development plan.

"More than anything we know higher education is important," said N. Jane Fullerton, associate vice-chancellor for educational linkages and access. "We want to see more Ohioans seek higher education. But we've got to look at what the community needs."

Commissioners told the BOR staff that they believe the community needs a community college, that's why they requested the study.

"I want everyone to know I support the school and I'm not a bit bashful about that," Lawrence County Commissioner George Patterson told the visitors.

Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens also expressed his support for CCC.

"Our job is, as the county commission, to do what is best for our constituents. We have to give them the best opportunity to better themselves.

"I don't understand the bureaucracy and the red tape. But we represent the people of Lawrence County and that's who were fighting for. We're fighting for more opportunities for the people in Lawrence County."

BOR officials told commissioners and others that in recent years, both the Board of Regents and state lawmakers have tended to lean more toward collaborative efforts between existing schools, particularly since the state's higher education budget has been either stagnant or has shrunk in recent years.

Fullerton cautioned local officials that the accreditation process is costly, lengthy and intensive. "We have to think not just about structure but about programs and how quickly something like this can be started. Establishing a community college is a big proposition. Its more than just changing a name," Fullerton said.

Collins Career Center Superintendent Steve Dodgion countered that money should not be a stumbling block to creating a community college, and it is not a stumbling block as far as he is concerned.

"There is no money involved here," Dodgion said. "We're not asking for additional dollars. … It seems to me they're concerned we don't have the money for this and we do. They're more concerned about my budget than I am."

As for the accreditation process, Dodgion said CCC officials began discussions with the North Central Committee a year ago. He said the school officials have the necessary documents for the accreditation process, but are waiting on that necessary approval from the BOR.

Those who support the proposal contend it will make higher education, specifically associate degree programs, more available to area residents and may even draw students to Lawrence County from neighboring states such as Kentucky and West Virginia.

They contend a community college, as opposed to a

collaborative effort with another school, would keep Lawrence County money in Lawrence County, instead of siphoning it off to Scioto or Gallia counties.

They also contend the community college would be a valuable economic development tool, making Lawrence County more attractive to new business and industry and better prepare area residents for higher paying jobs.

Dodgion contended students would get more for their effort if they received not only an education but also college credit for the time they spend sitting in class at CCC.

"It is important to understand that by 2007, 38 percent of all new jobs will require an associates degree. In order for Lawrence County to have a credentialed work force, it will take more than the institutions that are currently in this area," Dodgion said.

Dodgion stressed that Lawrence County's business, government and education leaders have all endorsed the idea, which appears to have support in the community at large.

Commissioners stressed they are not entirely happy with the idea of a study of the matter, even though they requested it, because they are concerned the study is simply a way of delaying a negative decision.

"The state has had a history of studying things to death," Stephens said. We have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder about studies and then hearing 'no' from Columbus." He used the history of the Chesapeake Bypass as one example of the state's propensity to drag its feet where Lawrence County is concerned.

Deborah Gavlik, BOR associate vice chancellor for finance and government relations, said the study of the community college proposal would likely have a 3 or 4-month time line.

In the meantime, Dodgion said the locally-based Yankee Consultants would continue with its own study that was begun earlier this year.

"I hope the people of Lawrence County will continue to stand behind

us. I believe in my heart that Lawrence County needs this desperately."