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Bill could consolidate two area community colleges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  Education leaders say a new bill that would consolidate two of the region's major community and technical colleges will work to enhance the role of technical education in the state.

The bill (SB 438) would merge Montgomery-based Bridgemont Community and Technical College and South Charleston-based Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College while maintaining their current locations to provide a more comprehensive curriculum for students seeking alternative education after high school, according to KVCTC President Joseph Badgley.

"Quite frankly, I think we're confusing people in the community. When businesses are looking for assistance in workforce development, they don't know if they should go here or there," he said. "This is just a cleaner, more comprehensive collection of programs."

Badgley said because Bridgemont focuses more on providing degrees in technology fields, and KVCTC focuses on health care, the combination of the two would open up more opportunities for students.

"What we have right now is an overlap of service regions between the two institutions, and by combining the two, we would increase the availability of programs at both locations," he said. "It would take the best of both institutions and simply expand the opportunities to the programs that each institution offers."

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, and Sens. Brooks McCabe and Erik Wells, both D-Kanawha, passed the education committee last week and will head to the finance committee.

While the bill intends to create easier access between high school students, baccalaureate institutions and other community and technical schools, it also aims to reduce duplication of programs and promote economic development and workforce training.

"A critical need exists to enhance the role of technical education in every area of the state; to encourage and strengthen collaborative and cooperative relationships between and among institutions in order to provide the highest quality programs and services most effectively," the bill reads.

"The establishment of multi-campus institutions provides an excellent opportunity to implement more effective and efficient systems of program delivery best suited to serving the needs of students, employers and the citizens of the geographic region."

Jo Harris, president of Bridgemont, said under the reorganization, the schools would use videoconferences to share classrooms and faculty, and would cut down on costs by eliminating duplications, such as spending money on software.

"To us, it's very exciting. This would really broaden curriculum under one umbrella and make a truly comprehensive college for this region," she said. "This is just the smart thing to do, and it will really add value to our students' education."

Harris said the bill comes at a time when the need for more postsecondary education opportunities in West Virginia has moved to the forefront.

"I think the timing is right. This addresses a great deal of need from our regional employers. We're seeing a need for more graduates to fill the technician-level jobs and the associate degree jobs as a lot of the Baby Boomers are retiring," she said. "With today's jobs, you need that postsecondary education, but not necessarily a four-year degree.

"The more we can focus on that and get a concerted effort to encourage both high schoolers and our adult population to get an education, the better."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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