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Community college merger idea gets thumbs down from Haywood leaders

Haywood County commissioners sent a message to Raleigh lawmakers this week to abandon the notion of merging small community colleges.

The plan to merge some administrative functions at small community colleges was floated by some Republican lawmakers as a cost-cutting measure earlier this year, but has been met with stiff resistance across the state.

“It concerns me,” Commissioner Mark Swanger said. Haywood Community College could lose local control of its college, like which courses and degrees to offer.

“We need to keep local control,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley said. “We tailor-make our community colleges to the needs of our community.”

Ensley cited courses offered by HCC to prepare students for jobs in paper making technology and engineering at the paper mill in Canton. HCC also created a new degree in low-impact development to help answer the demand for more sensitive mountainside construction.

HCC’s ability to respond to needs in the community could be compromised under a merger plan, Swanger said.

The plan would merge administration of community colleges with less than 3,000 fulltime students. It would save relatively little — only $5 million, which amounts to less than half of 1 percent of the state’s community college budget — said Laura Leatherwood, vice president of student and workforce development at Haywood Community College.

Leatherwood brought the resolution to county commissioners this week.

“There’s a reason they call it a community college,” Swanger said.

Commissioner Bill Upton said he was concerned about jobs that could be lost if administration was consolidated with another community college.

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