Study: County needs community college

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Does Lawrence County need a community college to call its own? The answer is a resounding "Yes," according to a recent study.

Last year, Collins Career Center began seeking the designation of community college in an effort to improve the college accessibility for Lawrence County and keep pace with the rest of the Tri-State. The Lawrence County Commissioners hired Yankee Consulting Inc. to conduct a study on the needs of the area.

That study was recently completed and will be formally presented to the commissioners today. The overall recommendation is that Collins should become a full-scale community college and work with existing programs to further higher education in the region, something that is sorely lacking, according to the study.

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"This study actually went much deeper, much farther that our research. What was shocking to me was that compared to the counties on the other side of the river, we aren't doing well," said Collins Superintendent Steve Dodgion said of the results that only confirmed his belief that the people of Lawrence County need this access to higher education.

"It is really frightening. We were looking at it on a state level. Now, this looks at it both regionally and nationally."

On a state level, only 11 percent of Lawrence County residents achieve an associate or bachelor's degree compared to 48 percent of all Ohio residents who achieve these levels of higher education. Of the 88 counties in Ohio, Lawrence ranks 84th in levels of associate's degree attainment and the 69th in bachelor's degree attainment.

Locally, both Boyd County, Ky., and Cabell County, W.Va., show higher levels of degree attainment. For associate's degrees Boyd shows 6.3 percent, Cabell 4.9 percent and Lawrence at 4.5 percent. For bachelor's degree's, Boyd is at 8.1 percent, Cabell at 12.1 percent and Lawrence at 6.4.

For Dodgion, these numbers are telling and show that something must change - and change soon.

"We are behind both Boyd and Cabell in educational attainment," Dodgion said. "The big reason for that is they both have community college systems."

Representatives from the Ohio Board of Regents, the coordinating board that provides higher education policy advice, develops strategy involving Ohio's public and independent colleges and universities, advocates for and manage state funds for public colleges and coordinates and implements state higher education policies, were present Wednesday when results were presented, Dodgion said.

"I don't think

that there is any question now that the Board of Regents agrees that there is a need," he said. "They want to determine the best way to meet those needs."

One point of debate in the past was whether or not the designation change would have a negative effect on Ohio University Southern. Dodgion did not think so then, although OUS Dean Dr. Dan Evans disagreed. But Dodgion believes the study only backs up his beliefs.

"It also confirms that a community college would not compete with the other institutions. In fact, the study shows that areas where there are co-locations or regional campuses and technical colleges, that there is not duplication," he said. "In fact, they enhance each other."

Other conclusions of the study are that CCC is the major job-training provider for the health care industry, the decision to make the community college designation should be based on what is best for the people of the county, that there would be minimal duplication of offerings and that converting Collins would be very cost effective because of the resources already in place.

The study recommends that Collins be designated a community college and that it develop pathways into other programs to allow the highest level of degree attainment.