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SVHEC outlines plan to survive

Sustainability is the number one priority for the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, now more than ever.

After more than 25 years of existence, the higher education center is beginning to get nationwide recognition for many of its programs, but the question remains can the center survive without relying solely on grant funding.

Executive Director Dr. Betty Adams met with Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education Javaid Siddiqi and other members of the state department Monday to discuss just that, and she left the meeting feeling “very supported” by that group.

“Specifics were discussed, and I have been assured of continued discussions. I think they feel what is the value we add, and it became more clear,” said Adams in an interview following her meeting with state officials.

Questions were raised at last month’s Halifax County Board of Supervisors meeting regarding the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and its partners — Danville Community College, Southside Virginia Community College, Mary Baldwin College, Averett University, Old Dominion University, Longwood University, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Letterfrack, Ireland, Virginia Tech and the Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Program. 

Currently partners pay less than five percent of operating costs of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

Adams came on board in 2009, and in that short time she said she has seen the higher education center say yes to everything, allowing people to use the facilities without paying a fee along with becoming overly dependent on grant funding.

“The tobacco commission never intended to fund us indefinitely. The hope, I believe, was the partners would see the value and give more,” said Adams.

 A grant exit strategy has been put into place, because according to Adams, sustainability requires all those with a stake in the higher education center and its continued existence to make adjustments. 

The strategy includes five phases.

w For the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center it means instituting institutional efficiencies and revenue-generating programs;

w For the Halifax Education Foundation it means re-focusing away from the landlord role and more toward fundraising;

 The education foundation owns the building, and the higher education center rents the building from the foundation.

w For the center’s partners it means they will soon have to implement a cost-sharing policy;

The higher education center already has held one meeting with its partners and plans to meet again in a couple of weeks.

w For the community it means a need for increased annual community support and adoption of the county-town joint resolution which has been approved and provides $312,686 for a higher education grant to match the $625,372 offered by the tobacco commission; and

w For the state it means increased support for operating costs and programs developed with tobacco commission seed monies.

“That’s what the plan is. It’s not a quick fix. It’s something that is going to happen over time,” said Adams of the five phase approach.

The recently approved joint resolution by the Town of South Boston and Halifax County has given a boost to morale around the center, Adams said.

The joint resolution between the county and Town of South Boston will contribute $312,686 for a higher education grant for the center to be divided over three years to match the $625,372 offered by the tobacco commission.

Three appropriations of $104,229 will be paid out in 2013 through 2016.

“Most of our staff’s positions are funded by grants, and now we’ll be able to tell them they can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Adams of the assurance provided by the joint resolution.

The center is special in more ways than one to the executive director. 

Adams, who said she has a passion for community colleges stemming from personal experience, can relate to many of the students who choose the higher education center for their educational path. She likes that they are not encumbered by most restrictions and have flexibility.

“We have flexibility and can address things in real time. We don’t have to deal with financial aid or reporting of the numbers, but we still have to be concerned and provide support,” said Adams. “We’re standing education on its head and I’m working with the brightest people that I’m worried they’re going to burn out…I have to hold them back.”

The higher education center has met with its partners and showed them the numbers. They plan to take the feedback and develop a model in which they will pick apart, and when they agree on a model, they will come together to decide how to phase it in, and then the negotiations will begin.

 According to Adams, the model will include enrollment numbers, percent of tuition to be paid and type of instruction offered. 

Currently, the partners only pay a student technology fee, for phone service and copies.

“It’s going to happen, but no one is looking to throw money at us,” Adams said. “It’s going to be phased in.”

Adams said the higher education center is right on target and is becoming more recognized as an educational innovator.

“We have to continue to increase sustainability, and we’ll be able to control our own destiny,” she concluded.