MILTON — Advocates for a public community college announced Thursday that negotiations were underway with an established university which could accredit the proposed school’s programs.

Dr. Lenaire Ahlum, Susquehanna Valley Community Education Project (SVCEP) founder and executive director, said a memorandum of understanding with a university could be finalized within the first quarter of 2021.

“We have to have a ‘big brother or big sister’ who actually has accreditation from the Middle States Commission for Higher Education conferring degrees,” Ahlum said. “We can do the operations of the college, but we have to fulfill all the obligations and requirements with the Middle States Commission for Higher Education. That is what the university partner will allow us to do.”

Ahlum said the university was not in the area, but it reached a socio-economic sector which would benefit most from earning associate’s degrees. A “good fit” was essential.

“This is an important relationship we are striving to establish,” Ahlum said. “The missions have to be similar, and that is what we are finding with this university.”

Ahlum noted that community college students were typically older, with an average age about 28, and possibly with some post-secondary schooling. Some also were simply “starting over.”

She explained the benefits of a local community college included its being under local control and nonprofit. It could be self-sustaining in 10 years.

Opening in the 2023-24 academic year was projected following state review. The timetable, Ahlum noted, was subject to change but was reasonable.

Sponsors planned to draft a multi-county sponsorship resolution which would soon be presented commissioners in Union, Snyder, Montour and Northumberland counties. Case evidence of the benefits of a local community college would also be circulated. It was hoped that all counties would be on board.

Community college advocates also unveiled results of a study by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). Kyla Mallory, EMSI economic analyst on higher education outlined the study.

Capital costs of $13.1 million would have a ripple effect through the region and longer-term spending by new employees would also be a benefit.

The study estimated that the capital costs could be recovered an annual costs in keeping the college operational could be recovered in 2.9 years.

A cost-to-benefit ratio of 3.5 was noted, meaning each dollar spent would be fully recovered and generate an additional $2.50 in benefits to the regional economy.

It was estimated that the cost to taxpayers would be about $1.14 per month, yielding a $16.7 million annual economic impact for the region.

Staff writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at matt@standard-journal.com.

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