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2008 June 16 - 12:00 am

NEWS BRIEFS

  • Ala. Senator Indicted in Probe of 2-year Colleges

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — State Sen. E.B. McClain has been indicted on bribery, conspiracy and other federal charges accusing him of pocketing more than $300,000 in government money routed through a nonprofit organization.

McClain, 68, already faces state theft charges in the case that stemmed from an investigation into corruption and cronyism in Alabama’s two-year college system.

U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said the Democrat used “pass-through pork’’ and the two-year college system to direct $751,245 in grants to the Heritage to Hope Foundation, Inc., an organization headed by the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue.

Pettagrue, 65, of Leeds, was also named in the 50-count indictment that includes charges of mail fraud and money laundering. Pettagrue is accused of passing along $305,000 to McClain as payment for helping secure government funds for the foundation.

The prosecutor said the bribes were fraudulently labeled as “consulting fees’’ or “wages’’ and that McClain did little or no consulting work for the foundation. Meanwhile, Martin said, a woman who worked as the foundation’s executive director for 18 months did so without pay after being told there were no funds to pay her salary.

“My reaction is not guilty,’’ said McClain.

Pettagrue’s attorney, Richard Jaffe, said he was “very sad and disappointed’’ with the indictment against his client.

“He’s done tremendous work for this community and he’s a hero to many people,’’ he said, adding that Pettagrue is in “terrible health’’ and awaiting a kidney transplant.

The alleged fraud occurred from April 2001 through November 2006 and began with McClain securing discretionary fund grants from the Legislature, also known as “pass-through pork,’’ for Pettagrue’s organization.

Prosecutors claim the scheme shifted to issuing grants through the two-year college system after stronger restrictions were put on the use of pass-through grants in 2003.

The federal investigation into the system has already resulted in plea agreements from former Chancellor Roy Johnson and former state Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa. State Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, has been indicted, but claims she is innocent in a case that amounts to political persecution.

Martin said that perception is false.

“I can already hear the rumble that these charges are politically motivated,’’ she said. “To that refrain let me state definitively: Today’s charges are not politically motivated, but the crimes were committed by a politician and his co-conspirator and we fully intend to show that through a mountain of evidence in a court of law — not through the media.’’

 

  • Gas Prices Push Missouri College To Embrace  Four-Day Week

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. (AP) — With student commuters feeling the pinch of gasoline prices approaching $4 per gallon, a community college in southeast Missouri is cutting back to a four-day school week.

This summer, Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff will extend classes to an hour and 10 minutes, rather than 55 minutes, but meet four days a week instead of five.

The college tried the four-day week on a pilot basis last summer and decided to make it permanent for summer classes. In fact, response has been so positive administrators are considering a four-day schedule option for fall and winter, too.

Executive Vice President Larry Kimbrow estimates the average student at Three Rivers drives 30 miles or more each way to get to class.

 

  • Wisc. Colleges Want Full    Funding for   Vets Benefits

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin System leaders want lawmakers to pay the full cost of tuition benefits they’ve given to veterans.

Wisconsin veterans can attend the UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System for free under a 2006 law.

The benefits are popular, but lawmakers and Gov. Jim Doyle have not given the schools enough tax money to cover them, college officials said.

A resolution by the UW System Board of Regents says that’s creating “a significant and increasing fiscal burden on UW institutions.’’

The resolution would call for full funding for the benefits and a change in the law to require veterans to use their federal benefits before they would be eligible for the state program. 

 

  • Virginia Colleges Approve Tuition Increase

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Students at Virginia’s community colleges will see tuition and fees increase by $6 per credit hour, meaning a student taking 30 credit hours will pay 7.5 percent more than the previous school year.

The State Board of Community Colleges set the last month.

Starting this fall, in-state students will pay $86.15 per credit hour, up from $80.65, according to Virginia Community College System spokesman Jeffrey Kraus.

A student taking 30 credit hours over two semesters would pay about $2,585 in tuition and fees in 2008-09, up from $2,405.

The board also approved a separate differential for Northern Virginia Community College, an additional $2.50 per credit hour.

 

  • Bill Would Keep N.C. Immigrant Status Out of Admission

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Several House members want to keep illegal immigrants in North Carolina’s community colleges and public universities by barring officials from asking potential students about their immigration status.

The bill filed by Democrats differs from two bills filed earlier by Republicans which attempt to bar admission for these immigrants by putting it in state law.

The community college system ordered all campuses last year to admit illegal immigrants, but it reversed the policy while federal officials formally weigh in on the matter.

University of North Carolina system campuses, meanwhile, haven’t stopped admitting illegal immigrants at out-of-state tuition rates.

 

  • Connecticut Establishes  Financial Services Degree

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Students in Connecticut can now earn a college degree in insurance and financial services.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell says the state Department of Higher Education has approved an associate of science degree in the field.

The curriculum was developed by the Insurance and Financial Services Center for Educational Excellence, an initiative developed by businesses to boost employment in Connecticut and provide training for occupations such as financial managers and analysts, financial sales agents, accountants and auditors, underwriting and actuaries.

Faculty at Capital Community College in Hartford and Norwalk Community College worked with industry to develop the curriculum. The two schools will begin offering the course work this fall.

  • Duke Energy Gives Grants to N. Carolina    Colleges

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Four community colleges in North Carolina will receive up to $250,000 each in awards from the Duke Energy Community College Grant Program.

The awards will go to Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock; Cleveland Community College in Shelby; McDowell Technical Community College in Marion; and Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem.

The grants go to programs that address training, retraining and other efforts to strengthen manufacturing. Duke Energy began the program in 2004 and has given 33 grants to 20 community colleges.

The program has invested almost $7 million.

The North Carolina Community College System enrolls more than 800,000 students in 58 colleges.  

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