West Virginia State Reels over Community College Compliance

By Wright, Scott W. | Black Issues in Higher Education, July 20, 2000 | Go to article overview

West Virginia State Reels over Community College Compliance


Wright, Scott W., Black Issues in Higher Education


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. Rather than competing, they will bring resources together."

And in yet another strange twist, some of West Virginia State College's partners eventually may have to cut their two-year college components loose. The new law says a panel of experts will decide next year whether those programs -- except West Virginia State's -- should be converted into freestanding community and technical colleges.

The consultants' report also indicates that West Virginia State administrators have a long road ahead of them in smoothing out lingering discontent among two-year college staff, many of whom supported independent status for the community college.

Dr. George Bilicic, the community and technical college's longtime provost, says Carter removed him from his post because he advocated separation. Bilicic, who was near retirement, quit rather than accept another administrative position (see Black Issues, April 13).

"The new law advances the cause of community college education in West Virginia but it still falls quite a bit short," Bilicic says. "We really do need a system of freestanding community and technical colleges here.

"Community colleges across the country have made notable contributions in work-force training and economic development," he says. "And the ones that have done the best job have been independent colleges, not components of a four-year institution.

"And although West Virginia State College Community and Technical College has been very active and its performance notable, we still fell far short of what a community college could have done had we been a free-standing institution," he adds. "If you talk to the community college people at any of those component colleges here, every one of them will tell you it doesn't work. They just won't say that in front of their bosses. A lot of my counterparts were afraid to speak up."

The consultants' report alludes to Bilicic's removal as a blow to the two-year college staff's morale. But it also points to what two-year college staff believe to be an ingrained mindset among administrators and four-year faculty.

"The major issue that appears to be driving a wedge between segments of the college community is a lack of a clear understanding of the mission, philosophy, goals, role, scope, importance and status of West Virginia State College-Community and Technical College," the consultants' report states.

"For example, if faculty and staff associated with [the two-year college] are perceived -- either in their own mind or by others -- as second-class members of the college community, an unacceptable division exists on campus," the report says.

The report says that even the higher education bill "notes that community college faculty and staff have some difficulty finding their place in the academic sun. To quote the report, `... despite progress made in developing community and technical colleges ... most of these colleges remain subordinated to colleges and universities with four-year and graduate missions.'"

Nevertheless, the report warns West Virginia State's two-year college faculty that "to continue to fight for an independent community college when the facts point otherwise would add to any division on campus that already exists."

Indeed, Griffin says that "the bill is the law now and we have to move on. It's just like in your personal life. If you get a divorce, sooner or later you have to get past that and move on."

But others remain doubtful. Rhuel Craddock, a member of the District 3 Consortium for West Virginia State's community and technical college, told a local newspaper that the consultants' report proves "we need autonomy.

"If [state lawmakers] look at this consultants' report," he says, "they can see that they're probably never going to be able to have a good community and technical college under the concept of operating under West Virginia State College."

Griffin, widely expected to be tapped by Carter as the top administrator for West Virginia State's community and technical college division, acknowledges that what the college is being asked to accomplish is difficult and unprecedented.

"There are parallels, but nothing quite like it will be in West Virginia," he says. "A lot of people look at freestanding community colleges and the freedom they have.

"But here we have the same opportunity to do just about anything you would find at any other community college anywhere in the country," Griffin says. "The politicians have made it clear this is what they want us to do. I don't think it will be a problem."

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