College draws diverse student body

Campus: Anne Arundel Community College has full-time freshmen, executives taking computer classes and part-timers who hold down jobs during the day.

October 21, 2001|By KAREN NITKIN | By KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The student population at Anne Arundel Communfty College could hardly be more diverse.

Some are 18-year-old full-time students working toward associate degrees. Others are executives at major corporations, taking classes in the latest computer technology. And still others are going to school part time while they hold down jobs during the day.

But to Martha A. Smith, president of the college since 1994, all students are part of the institution's mission.

"The context of a community college is that we provide a continuum of lifelong learning for people to access at any point in their lives," she said in a recent interview.

Founded in 1961, the community college is based in Arnold and has campuses in Glen Burnie and other locations. It served about 60,000 students in the 2000-2001 academic year, the third-largest community college enrollment in the state.

The college's mission, Smith said, is to "provide high-quality higher education that is affordable, accessible and responsive to the needs of our community."

To meet that mission, the college's first president, Dr. Andrew G. Truxal, focused on offering an education that would allow students to transfer to another school to complete a four-year degree. Things have changed radically since then.

"What's happened, I'd say over the past 20 years, is the whole concept of the adult learner," Smith said.

Because of that change, the college offers a wide range of credit courses - from architecture to women's studies - allowing students to work toward an associate's degree. Noncredit and certificate courses are available in such areas as business management, computer programming and catering.

Tuition for the 2001-2002 academic year is $60 a credit hour for residents of Anne Arundel County, $115 a credit hour for other Maryland students and $204 a credit hour for out-of-state and foreign students.

The college's innovations have begun to attract national attention. Recently, the National Alliance of Business, a 5,000-member group that includes chief executive officers and educators, gave it the Community College of the Year Distinguished Performance Award. The award recognizes a college's ability to connect education to workplace achievement.

A key component is the college's workplace training programs, which allow specific corporations to tailor offerings to their needs, said Joel Rodkln, the college's director of business and industry training. If a local company wants employees to learn a specific computer language, for example, "you would contact my office and my responsibility would be to put together the training program."

Although many community colleges offer similar training programs, Anne Arundel's is distinguished by the variety of programs it offers, Rodkin said.

"It's a very diverse county," he said, noting that Anne Arundel is home to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the National Security Agency, the state capital and many telecommunications companies.

The workplace training program has expanded considerably in the last five years or so, adding more private sector companies to its list of partnerships, Rodkin said. In the 2000-2001 academic year, it served about 5,000 students, he said.

One of the college's more visible public-sector partnerships is with the county's public schools. The Teacher Technology Training Program was started in 1998 to help teachers catch upon new technology. The program, which won an award from the National Council on Continuing Education and Training, has trained more than 18,000 people.

Smith is eager to distribute credit for the award.

"I never want to forget to say the reason we earned those institutional results is because of the quality of the faculty and staff," she said. "The second reason is the tremendous level of support we get from our community," both in terms of county and state funding and support from civic and community leaders, she said.

In another effort to strengthen the link between education and work force achievement, the college last year created a Hospitality, Culinary Arts, and Tourism Institute, based in Glen Burnie. Instead of offering a single restaurant management degree program, the new institute offers a range of credit and noncredit courses in hotel management, catering, pastry-making and more.

"The concept is that the whole hospitality industry has an incredible number of needs relative to our workers, so we are going to try to address all of those needs," Smith said.

As the new institute attracts students, it will probably fuel the overall increase in enrollment at the community college Smith said.

"We've been the fastest-growing college over the past six years, she said. "We've grown about 25 percent, way above the state average."

Many of those students attend college full time, regardless of whether they plan to continue studying at a four-year school. As a community college, the institution promises to accept any student 16 or older with a high school degree and an ability to "benefit from a college education."

Smith sees no conflict between the colleges open admission policy and its commitment to excellence.

"I've never understood why you can't have both. Open access really doesn't have anything to do, necessarily, with the standards for exit," she said. "The real challenge and the real plus of community colleges, the reason why they are so important, is our mission mandates us to take people wherever they are and bring them to the same high level."

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