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City will discuss college

Livingston Mayor Tom Tartt knows the issue must be addressed in a public forum, even though the discussions in private are loud enough.

At 4 p.m. today, Tartt will open city hall to members of the Livingston community to hear their public comments about the proposed construction of a community college in Demopolis.

“We just want to hear what the public has to say,” Tartt said.

Almost two years ago, the wheels were set in motion by a group of community leaders in Demopolis to construct an education center that would house everything from technical training to college Math 101.

As discussions on the center increased, three institutions of higher learning — Alabama Southern Community College, the University of West Alabama and the University of Alabama — were all asked to be involved in the higher education center.

All three agreed; but over the past month, Dr. Richard Holland and members of his board of trustees have cried wolf.

Holland, who in 2002 told faculty and board members that Demopolis would not open a community college, has faced pressure after reports that Alabama Southern plans to offer associate degrees at the new education center.

Preston “Mann” Minus, who chairs the majority faction of the UWA board, is one who believes Livingston has a lot to lose if a community college opens in Demopolis.

“My family has four generations in [Livingston],” Minus said. “If that junior college opens, and if they only take 50 percent of the students from Marengo County, it will mean massive layoffs here.”

According to numbers from the admissions office at UWA, more than 200 undergraduate students from Marengo County attend UWA. A full-time student at UWA pays more than $1,800 a semester in tuition and fees.

“This may be a great thing for the initial economic impact,” Minus said. “But you’re talking about taking 12 to 14 percent of our undergraduate enrollment away.”

Demopolis leaders who have been involved in the project since its inception — like Chuck Smith — say the numbers released by UWA and officials in Livingston are skewed. Smith, who attended UWA, said he does not believe as many students will stop taking classes at the Livingston school. Rather, he believes students may take a second look at education if they can better afford it. And those students will then finish their college careers at UWA.