Area community colleges eye merger

If the proposed merger of two community colleges goes through — Pueblo Community College (southwest campus) and The San Juan Basin Technical College — Pagosa area residents could have access to more training and educational opportunities.

The merger was first conceived late last winter when the SJBTC Board of Control and President Shannon South began looking into the feasibility of a merged institution in light of the market-share and budgetary constraints faced by SJBTC. South then approached PCC President Tim Garvin about the idea, who was also interested, and the two decided to pursue a feasibility study to investigate the viability of the merger.

Findings of the study were released in May 2008, leading to the formation of a merger steering committee composed of representatives from both institutions. The committee has been working since then, advising officials from both colleges on how to proceed with the merger.

According to merger committee chair Joe Keck, director of the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, “It looks like to get a complete merger, it might take a couple of years at least.” Keck stated that further action towards the merger would require action by the Colorado Legislature. The committee is hoping that State Sen. Jim Isgar (a supporter of the merger) will introduce legislation in early 2009 that would, if passed, approve the merger. The measure is also supported by State Rep. Ellen Roberts.

If the merger is approved by the Colorado Legislature, the result will be a new post-secondary entity as SJBTC and PCC southwest campus cease to exist as separate entities. Thus, the SJBTC campus in Montezuma County and the PCC in La Plata County will exist under the umbrella of the new community college.

The merger should be a boon for the beleaguered 37-year old SJBTC campus which requires $2 million in upgrades to meet state codes and improve programming and infrastructure. SJBTC’s founding school districts — Mancos, Montezuma-Cortez and Dolores — cut dedicated funding for the institution, paying for students enrolled instead of the lump-sum payment that had been traditionally awarded. With SJBTC enrollment down 26 percent from last year, the institution has seen a drop in revenues and under current funding schemes, SJBTC would cease to exist.

Initially, Pagosa area students will have few course options, locally. When asked if the new institution would offer more course options, PCC’s southwest campus director Lynn Urban said, “Right now we don’t see a need for that.”

Urban did say that there would be two or three classes offered locally, “Most likely, English Composition I, Introduction to Business, and the high school has agreed to give space for an Early Childhood Education class.” Urban also pointed out that PCC offers courses online and that students can conceivably earn a certificate or Associate’s degree on the computer.

Keck pointed out that, “One of the driving reasons for doing the merger is to make the transition toward a career pathway from high school to a two or even four-year degree more seamless and efficient.

“Ideally, high school students will be able to participate in college prep classes while in high school and not only receive credit but lower the cost of college. In the past a number of students were not able to transfer credits between the tech college to PCC and other institutions. The overall goal is integrate the Community College AA offerings and Votech Certificate offerings so that students will be working toward and getting credit toward a career pathway that they can expand. The merged institutions want to offer more classes for credit to the local high schools in the area.”

With approval by the Colorado Legislature, students could start enrolling in the new institution as early as the fall of 2009.

jim@pagosasun.com