West Virginia State Reels over Community College Compliance

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West Virginia State Reels Over Community College Compliance

INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- When lawmakers considered granting independence to West Virginia State College's community and technical college this spring in the name of higher education reform, Dr. Hazo Carter Jr., the school's president, lobbied fiercely to keep the school intact.

He phoned legislators. He called in political chips. He appeared at a rally on the steps of the state Capitol along with protesting West Virginia State students and staff. He told reporters it would be discriminatory to rip the two-year school away.

Carter and the college won the political struggle. But a new report by independent consultants indicates the historically Black school could face an even bigger battle in order to comply with legislators' wishes to strengthen the community and technical college.

The 20-page report says that West Virginia State will have to overcome a host of obstacles -- both internal and external -- if its two-year component is to reach its full potential in providing higher education opportunities here in the Kanawha Valley.

Among them: a required philosophical shift among West Virginia State's administrators, rock-bottom morale among the school's two-year college staff and a rather vague state law with plenty of demands and few solid details.

Further complicating matters, higher education experts say that the sweeping new higher education reform law, which took effect earlier this month, requires West Virginia State to establish a community college like no other in the nation.

"It's a very unusual situation," says one of the consultants, Dr. George B. Vaughan, a North Carolina State University professor of adult and community college education and a former two-year college president himself.

Nationally, fewer than two dozen community and technical colleges are housed within a four-year state college or university, a model that has persisted here in West Virginia even as other states have abandoned it in favor of freestanding two-year colleges.

With only three stand-alone two-year institutions in the state, West Virginia lawmakers considered granting independence to several two-year schools housed in the state's four-year institutions so they could concentrate more on work-force development.

But Carter and other four-year school administrators balked. In a compromise, West Virginia State was allowed to keep its two-year college component but will be required to work with three other institutions to provide a community college education.

The school must draft an education plan for a three-county area that incorporates help from Glenville State's, West Virginia University Institute of Technology's and Marshall University's community and technical colleges.

No one's quite sure how that will work, especially given that higher education institutions here in West Virginia -- like those all across the country -- traditionally have competed for programs, students and state funding.

In the past, the four schools "have not cooperated," Vaughan says, adding that "as long as you have overlapping services and say that everyone is responsible, no one ends up being responsible. That will be the major challenge."

"I believe it is workable," Vaughan says. "But the schools will have to cooperate very closely and carefully. The institutions are going to have to sincerely look at the needs of the area, rather than serve the needs of their own institutions. Everyone will have to give some."

Dr. Ervin Griffin, West Virginia State College's vice president of student affairs, acknowledges that school officials "don't really know all the particular things we will have to do" under the new higher education law.

"That's one of the challenges," he says, adding Carter has met with the presidents of several of the other institutions. "They are going to try and work together to provide a community college education. …

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