Northeast State eyes automotive technology center for downtown Kingsport

Rick Wagner • Dec 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The downtown Academic Village may be growing again, this time for an automotive technology center.

Despite Tennessee budget cuts and an uncertain economy, Northeast State Technical Community College may add an automotive body and paint training center to the post-secondary educational programs downtown.

The College Foundation’s Board of Directors recently voted to endorse accepting the donation of a building and land downtown to the foundation, pending the foundation and the donor working out the final details.

The Kingsport Center for Higher Education and Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) are under construction within a one block radius of the Regional Center for Health Professions. Those three facilities comprise the Academic Village.

Northeast President Bill Locke said the donation, if it goes through, should occur before year’s end.

“We’ll know by the end of the month whether that deal is going to go or not,” Locke said Tuesday afternoon.

Locke said the eventual plan would be for the donated property to be used to expand the automotive technology program, which offers associate of applied science degrees.

“We don’t have any more more here to grow,” Locke said of automotive offerings on the main campus in Blountville.

Offerings there include a program that trains people to work in NASCAR, but the downtown Kingpsort expansion likely would focus on automotive body and paint work.

“It would cost us about $250,000 to get it in the shape to do something with it,” Locke said of the property. “I know we aren’t getting anywhere with it unless we get some help from some car companies or whomever.”

That’s because the school probably will face a 15 to 20 percent state cut in its budget for 2009-10.

Locke said a 15 percent cut in the $12 million the school is to receive from the state for 2008-09 would cost about $1.8 million.

“We’re going to lose money big time,” Locke said. “Until they tell some exactly, we don’t have a clue.”

He said he and other community college presidents across the state are awaiting work from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission on what budget cuts may be made.

With little support for raising tuition, he said the schools likely will be left to make up the cuts.

However, despite gloomy financial headlines and likely double-digit state funding cuts, Locke in the Tuesday interview and in a Dec. 11 speech to the foundation board said he remained optimistic about the future.

“I feel good and positive about the College,” Locke said to the board. “We are in a tough situation here, but we’ve always been able to weather the storm.”

Northeast State ranks at the bottom of per student funding for higher education public institutions in the Tennessee Board of Regents system.

“We receive less funding per student than any other college in Tennessee,” Locke said. “Because of our continuing increases in enrollment we may be facing a bigger cut in state funding than some other schools.”

However, Locke also emphasized Northeast State’s triumphs during the past year including:

•Fall 2008 enrollment exceeded 5,500 – the 10th record enrollment in 11 years

•The Regional Center for Health Professions opening in August welcoming hundreds of health-related professions and nursing students

•A survey of students by the THEC that found the College’s job placement rate for 2007 graduates at 98 percent

•Construction continuing on the Kingsport Center for Higher Education and Regional Center for Advance Manufacturing, both expected to open in August of 2009.

Northeast State operates the Regional Center for Health Professions, which houses the divisions of Nursing and Health-Related Professions.

The college will operate RCAM and the Higher Education Center through an agreement with the city once the buildings are constructed.

The four-year institutions — the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Carson-Newman College, King College and Lincoln Memorial University — have committed to offering a selection of courses at the Higher Education Center.

Locke said the economic turmoil keeps Northeast State committed to finding creative and innovative methods to serve students’ needs academically and financially. He said the school remains committed to ensuring the region’s residents have the opportunity to reach their full potential through higher education, he said.

“It isn’t going to be easy,” Locke said “but I know we are going to come through this.”

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