Year-end date is set for community college plan

By Harold Gwin

An ‘implementation committee’ is mapping out the educational plan.

YOUNGSTOWN — Details of how and where a community college would operate in the Mahoning Valley will be in place by the end of the year, and the first classes will be offered in fall 2009.

That’s the timetable outlined Friday by Eric Fingerhut, Ohio’s Chancellor of Higher Education.

The Mahoning Valley is the only metropolitan area of Ohio not served by a community college, and the creation of a two-year school here is a major part of the chancellor’s proposed 10-year Strategic Plan for Higher Education.

A 40-member “implementation committee” made up of local educators, business and professional people and others has been formed and is mapping out the details, Fingerhut said at a press conference Monday at The Chevrolet Centre.

“This is the best news in the Mahoning Valley in decades,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who participated in the conference.

The government can provide the tools to increase the level of education in the region, but, “The rest is up to us,” Ryan said, explaining that the community needs to develop “an attitude and level of expectation” for every local citizen who can attend the community college.

Opening a community college here is a significant step in terms of aiding economic development, by providing a trained workforce that will have the skills to step into jobs and “plug into the tech belt” effort being launched at Youngstown State University, Ryan said.

Fingerhut said the community college plan calls for the use of facilities at YSU, the three Kent State University branch campuses in Trumbull and Columbiana counties, the high school career and technical centers in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown. Distance learning is also being considered.

Students attending the two-year program will be able to transition into four-year baccalaureate degree programs if they wish, taking all of their earned credits with them to any public university in Ohio, Fingerhut said.

Details of the college’s vision, governance structure, what specific courses will be offered, where they will be taught and by whom, what they will cost and how student support services will be provided will all be worked out by the implementation committee by the end of December, he said.

The effort is being assisted by Lorain and Jefferson county community colleges, which are lending their expertise and experience to getting a college started here, Fingerhut said.

The project is part of the 10-year plan for Ohio higher education, he pointed out, adding that additional courses and programs can be added as required, and a permanent faculty will eventually be developed. The plan is to have the project ready to present to the governor and state Legislature as they begin work on the two-year state budget process in spring 2009, he said.

There are no estimates yet’s on what it will cost to launch the college, but the implementation committee has a $200,000 budget ($100,000 from the Raymond J. Wean Foundation and a matching amount from the Ohio Board of Regents) to do its work.

The local participating institutions will be donating their time and expertise, Fingerhut said.

No initial enrollment projections have been made nor have tuition costs been estimated, but Fingerhut said the cost of community college is generally significantly less than that at traditional four-year schools.

Dr. David Sweet, YSU president, said he is most pleased with the title of the implementation committee, which reflects a true commitment from the state to move forward with the community college concept, something YSU has been working on for two years.

He credited state Sen. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-33rd, with getting the state involved in the process.

This is a great day for the region, Boccieri said, adding that it’s all about how to “make our assets work for us.” Marrying business and industry with the community college will get people into the training they will need and also give them an opportunity to advance their education at YSU, Boccieri said.

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