By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - A new community college could start offering classes in Warren County by the end of the year if area leaders can sell state lawmakers on the idea.
A proposal backed by Rep. Tom Raga, R-Mason, would open up the Warren County Career Center north of Lebanon to new classes and teachers brought in from nearby colleges and universities.
Because there's no need for new buildings, advocates say the new school would take only 80 percent of the money the state normally spends on community college students.
The idea is intriguing enough to earn a spot in the $48 billion, two-year budget plan House Republicans hope to pass Wednesday. But that bill also would close a law school and slash other graduate programs at Ohio universities to help cut millions in proposed higher education spending.
Perhaps that's why at least one state higher education official opposes a new Warren County college.
"It's premature to make the decision that a brand new community college would be more cost effective than using existing institutions," said Edmund J. Adams, a Cincinnati lawyer and vice chairman of the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees state universities.
Raga and other Warren County officials say everyone agrees the fast-growing region is underserved by colleges. They say the time-consuming commutes required to reach neighboring campuses keeps many students from enrolling.
"We're bringing the classes to the students instead of the students to the class," Raga said.
The proposal to add new programs stands in stark contrast to the rest of the higher education budget, which has become one target for deep spending cuts.
Lawmakers looking to avoid the governor's demands to raise more than $3 billion in new taxes to balance state finances want to cut $347 million from colleges and universities. That would mean the loss of a law school, the reorganization of six medical schools and lower support for other graduate programs throughout the state.
The Warren County plan would set up the community college as a pilot program within the Career Center, which offers vocational classes to about 7,000 adults and 1,000 high school students.
The Center would contract with nearby schools, including the University of Cincinnati and Dayton's Sinclair Community College, to offer college-level classes and instructors in Warren County.
Mike Geygan, a member of the Area Progress Council of Warren County, said the new school could potentially import the best classes and programs each university offers. He said that would be better than signing an agreement with only one university or college.
Raga said the plan reflects a desire among local officials to make sure the courses offered would best suit the needs of Warren County's growing business community. Another benefit: it wouldn't require a new campus or university administration that would cost local taxpayers more money.
Vince Roessner, superintendent of the Warren County Career Center, said he's working to persuade leaders of other universities.
"We're trying to explain that, no, we don't want to compete with them or duplicate what they do," Roessner said. "We want them to come in under our umbrella."
Anthony Perzigian, senior vice president and provost at the University of Cincinnati, said he's open to the idea of UC offering courses at the Career Center.
"I think there's tremendous potential to expand our presence and reach into Warren County," Perzigian said. "We'd be very interested in working on that pilot venture."
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