- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - Two mergers planned for seven of Alabama’s community colleges are on hold until 2017, officials said recently.

The mergers were originally slated for this summer, The Opelika-Auburn News reported (bit.ly/1Yq8OMi).

Three east Alabama community colleges were expected to form one regional institution upon final approval by the Alabama Community College System board of trustees this July.

Those colleges are Southern Union State Community College in Opelika, Wadley and Valley; Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City, Childersburg and Talladega; and Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City.

A consolidation to create another regional institution in south Alabama this summer was planned for Alabama Southern, Jefferson Davis, Reid State and Faulkner State community colleges.

Plans to consolidate the colleges are still in place, but will be delayed until 2017 because of timing issues, Chancellor Mark Heinrich said in an email to Central Alabama President Susan Burrow and Faulkner State President Gary Branch.

Burrow was selected by Heinrich last year to serve as president of the east Alabama regional school, which has yet to be named, the Opelika newspaper reported.

“Due to unforeseen legislative and departmental delays, coupled with key timing issues necessary to ensure that students’ financial aid packages are not compromised, it is my decision to push back the implementation of this consolidation plan,” Heinrich wrote in the email.

“We will immediately begin working with regulatory bodies and accreditors to establish an agreed upon schedule to accomplish the consolidations in 2017, he wrote.

The new timeline will allow officials to work with the Alabama Commission on Higher Education to satisfy their requirements, and also to continue to work with the state legislature to make sure the consolidation plan is successful, Heinrich wrote.

At the Alabama Community College System’s Wednesday board meeting, Heinrich announced the consolidation delay to audience members during his monthly report.

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