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Bedford based organization promotes private colleges

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By John Barnhart

    Tucked away in Bedford’s Centertown is an organization that promotes Virginia’s private colleges to the nation and the world. It’s called the Council of Independent Colleges of Virginia. It’s located in the building on Main Street that once housed the Bedford Democrat and currently is home to Robert Lambeth’s law practice. This is a good location for the organization’s office as Lambeth is it’s president. It’s also a good location because many of it’s members are in this region of Virginia.

    According to Lambeth, there are 28 private colleges involved. Members include Lynchburg College, Liberty University, Randolph College, Hollins University and Roanoke College, Ferrum College and Washington and Lee University.
    “We’re the umbrella association of colleges,” said Lambeth. “We look for opportunities for collaboration.”
    Lambeth said that in order to be a member of the council, a private college must be a non-profit school and accredited at the highest level.
    “We are not involved with for-profit schools,” said Lambeth.
    One area they work on is the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG). Lambeth said that this is available to any Virginia resident who attends a private college in Virginia full time. It currently provides $2,800 per year for four years. He said that Delegate Lacey Putney was one of the original sponsors of the grant when it was first established a number of years ago. According to Lambeth 23,000 students currently receive this grant.
    “It’s a grant, it does not have to be repaid,” Lambeth noted.
    The Council works with the General Assembly to advocate for this grant every year.
    “Lacey has been a strong supporter since it was created,” he said.
    TAG is their primary project in the General Assembly, but Lambeth said that they look at all bills, as well as government regulatory actions, that affect private colleges.
    Another area in which the Council is involved is collaboration among the schools. This is important because the size and resources of the schools under their umbrella vary greatly. Some are very small, while others are quite large.
    “Liberty is one of the largest private colleges in America,” Lambeth said.
    Kate Sigler, the council’s director of business operations, said that they can often achieve economies of scale when schools collaborate on purchases, such as insurance and software license agreements.
    “What we look for is saving money and getting better service and more attention,” said Lambeth, noting that it can be hard for a small school to work with a big company.
    “We have a group purchasing organization,” said Sigler, pointing to another collaborative project. She said it provides next day to-the-desk delivery.
    They also make it possible for schools to share the cost of consultants.
    “We can get some pretty sharp people,” Lambeth said.
    “Everybody is helped by doing it together,” Sigler commented.    
    An important collaborative project is health insurance. Lambeth said that they are now in the third year of a project that took 10 years to build and required authorization from the General Assembly.
    This is a self-insurance project that currently has 13 colleges with 3,000 insured employees in the pool. It’s run by a board of directors that consists of one representative from each school plus Lambeth. Anthem administers it. Lambeth noted that different colleges will have good years and bad years at different times. The large pool evens out claims.
    “We are financially in good shape,” Lambeth said.
    They are now getting ready to launch a group health insurance program for students.
    The Council also does collaborative marketing for the colleges. Sigler said that they noticed that a number of colleges under the umbrella were sending representatives to a college fair on the west coast. The Council was able to pool this effort into one booth that represents all the schools.
    The Council sponsors Virginia Private College week. This is a summer program that makes it easier for a family to visit multiple colleges in day. If a student visits three colleges during the week, they get application fee waivers from any of the participating school.
    In addition, they have a program that gives high school guidance counselors tours of member schools. It’s a three-day tour and the counselors visit nine schools. Lambeth said that they rotate which schools are included on the tour each year.
    For more information about the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, go to their website at www.vaprivatecolleges.org.