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Lawmaker objects to college plan

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- At a budget hearing for the University System of West Virginia Board of Trustees Tuesday, a Marion County Senator took the opportunity to grill the BOT Chancellor about a proposal to separate community colleges from their parent four-year institutions.

If approved by the Legislature, the proposal would, in stages, administratively separate the Gaston Caperton Center from Fairmont State College, giving the center its owns core faculty, budget allocation and authority to keep and administer tuition funds.

The proposal is opposed by the FSC administration, some students and Del. A. James Manchin, D-Marion.

Sen. Roman Prezioso, Jr., D-Marion, said he has serious reservations about the reorganization plan and questions the validity of the recommendations given by a consulting firm contracted by the BOT.

The reorganization plan is part of a package of recommendations made by the non-profit National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, based in Boulder, Colo.

Prezioso said his objections center on the fact the NCHEMS consultants did not look at each institution individually.

"I just don't think one size fits all," Prezioso said.

Dr. Charles Manning, outgoing Chancellor of the BOT, said the reorganization is needed because community colleges statewide are not accomplishing their most important mission -- helping 25 to 45 year-olds become competitive in an increasingly technological job market.

"You can point to good things West Virginia institutions are doing, but overall it's not a good picture," Manning said. "We're not reaching those people. An advantage of independent community colleges is that they would have greater efficiency and dedication to that mission."

Manning said that while the NCHEMS consultants did not examine individual colleges, they looked at participation in workforce training on a county-by-county basis and found it to be inadequate.

After the budget presentation, Prezioso, who works in a cooperative workforce training program for FSC and the Marion County Board of Education, said he believes FSC has effective workforce readiness programs.

"We've taken displaced coal miners who have been out of school for 35 years and had no skills and guided them all the way to a bachelor's degree," he said. "It's a smooth, seamless process and some consultant is trying to tell me it's not working."

Prezioso added that institutions with community college programs have also had to meet workforce training requirements outlined in S.B. 547 and he feels it is unfair to make them "switch gears" again.

"FSC has already made changes and they did everything we asked them to do," he said. "Now are we going to go back and change the rules of the game again?"

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