An Ohio Controlling Board member is worried that a proposed Akron campus for Stark State College could poach students from the University of Akron.
The board deferred voting on the project this week because of the concerns.
State Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, who serves on the board, said more analysis is needed on how the schools will co-exist.
He wants to see a study on programming offered by Stark State and UA’s two-year College of Applied Science and Technology before the board approves funding for the satellite campus.
“The fact that the University of Akron has in the last several years lost several thousand students in enrollment is a matter of concern, and to bring in another institution into the immediate environment competing for students without making sure they don’t have competing programs struck me as an important question that needed to be answered,” Sawyer said.
The campus issue was pulled from the agenda Monday because the board didn’t want to make an “overly quick decision,” he said.
Board member Sen. Bill Coley, a Cincinnati-area Republican, said he has no problem with the campus after discussing it with state colleagues who represent the area and the fact that the funding already has been approved as part of the state capital budget.
The next board meeting is in October, giving city and college officials more time to answer the questions, Sawyer said.
Stark State, which offers two-year associate degrees and certification programs, has a lease-to-purchase deal set with the city to buy nearly 11 acres along Perkins and Union streets for $949,380, but needs the approval of the Controlling Board.
The college, based in Jackson Township, plans to build a $12 million campus called Stark State College Akron on the property.
Stark State on Wednesday announced that it will open a temporary site in Akron in January at 755 White Pond Drive, now the home of Brown Mackie College.
Too close for comfort?
City and college officials were caught off guard when the controlling board decided not to vote, but said Wednesday that they believe the project will ultimately be approved by the state.
College spokeswoman Marisa Rohn said Stark State has studied the programming at the two institutions and there is little overlap.
“Our goal is to never duplicate,” she said. “I don’t think that’s an issue at all. We’ve done a lot of homework on that and we’ve shared that information.”
She noted that 86 percent of Stark State students are working while attending the school, and need flexible weekend and evening classes.
The college says its research shows that there is an overlap in associate degree offerings of about 20 percent with the university. But only 3.2 percent of students at the main UA campus intend to complete a certificate or an associate degree, Stark State said.
“The typical Stark State College student, on the other hand, is a 29-year-old female seeking a two-year degree or certificate opportunity,” Rohn said. “We are confident that our associate degree and certificate offerings are either a direct pathway to a high-?demand job, or a four-year degree.”
Stark State and UA have been talking the last few months about improving collaboration and view the college as a way to feed students into the university, she added.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan disputed Sawyer’s conclusion that Stark State and UA may not be able to co-exist in the city.
“I can’t think of a more misguided statement because they are two different institutions,” he said.
He noted that Stark State is more focused on workforce development and training.
“They can exist and thrive right next to each other and I look forward to that,” the mayor said. “And it’s a little late in the process to be bringing this up, too.”
Sawyer said he takes issue with the campus being described as downtown. He doesn’t believe it is.
He also questioned local leaders describing Akron as the largest metropolitan area in the state without a community college, considering UA has a two-year college.
There has been concern that UA has been working behind the scenes to squash the project because of the potential impact on the university.
However, UA spokesman Wayne Hill said Wednesday in an email that is not the case.
“In fact,” he wrote, “UA has only offered to collaborate on a host of levels.”
When asked whether it supports the Stark State campus, UA released a statement from UA interim President Matthew Wilson that said Wilson has been meeting with Stark State President Para Jones on ways to cooperate and collaborate.
“We are well aware of Stark State College’s plans for an Akron location and we have initiated discussions with the academic leadership of both UA and Stark State to align those degree offerings in the best way possible,” he said in the prepared statement. “UA and its governmental representatives have responded to questions and have had conversations with legislators concerning the project and ways in which UA and Stark State can continue to work together.
“We intend to continue the productive discussions we have been having with both Stark State and the city of Akron related to this issue.”
UA also said it raised the possibility of housing Stark’s Akron operation on UA’s campus, rather than construct a new building.
“It was a brainstorming exercise to forge an even closer bond between UA and Stark State College and also to potentially save taxpayer money,” Hill said. “It should be noted that UA has had a community college as part of its campus since 1964 and has awarded thousands of associate’s degrees. Accordingly, there would seem to be an opportunity for further collaboration with Stark State College as their project unfolds.”
Most support plan
State Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, issued a statement in support of the project.
“Both the University of Akron and Stark State College provide exceptional higher educational opportunities to my constituents and the greater Summit County community,” she said.
Akron, Summit County and business leaders have lobbied in favor of the campus.
Stark State has estimated that the campus could accommodate as many as 5,000 students within five years.
The college expects to employ the equivalent of 157 full-time workers if enrollment reaches 5,500.
The hope is that the campus will open for the 2018-19 school year. School officials have said that one in four of its students now come from Summit County.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.