Cecil Co. college leaping forward

North East's 2-year school registers 15% increase in students, largest in state

March 16, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

NORTH EAST - Student enrollment in community colleges across the state is on the rise, but little Cecil Community College in North East is the leader of the pack.

The student population at CCC, as the school is commonly called, rose 15 percent last year. This made it the fastest-growing community college in a state where overall enrollment in two-year schools rose 5 percent during the period.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, enrollment at the college has jumped 37 percent to about 1,700 students in a county with population of about 85,000.

"When I came here a little less than three years ago, I set a goal of 20 percent growth by 2005," said W. Stephen Pannill, president of CCC. "People looked at me like I had two heads."

Over the previous decade enrollment had declined by about 15 percent. In five years before Pannill's arrival, the school added two students.

Pannill no longer gets strange looks. Since he took over as president in July 2000, the school has added 400 students.

Community colleges tend to grow during difficult financial times, according to county and education officials, but they agree that this is just part of CCC's success.

"There has been a big change in attitude at the school," said Phyllis Kilby, vice president of the Cecil County Board of Commissioners and a former CCC student. "It has become more customer friendly. They want their students to succeed."

Kilby said the school has benefited from an aggressive regional marketing program that has lured students from nearby counties along with others from Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"They looked at the marketplace to see what programs were needed, and they have done a good job of trying to meet the community's needs," she said.

Pannill said that about 12 percent of CCC students come from outside the county, the bulk of them from Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Cecil is attracting national attention with some of its programs, including its transportation course," said Anthony G. Kinkel, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges.

"They work with companies all over the world," he added.

Kilby said the college is trying to make it easier for students to learn. In the past, she said, if a class was full, students were out of luck. "But now they put the student's name on a list and if there is adequate demand, they add a new class."

Sometimes the new classes are in unconventional places.

"We put classes in churches, in high schools, in local businesses and senior centers," said Diane C. Lane, dean of students and enrollment management. "When we see a need we try to accommodate it."

"We are at 21 different sites throughout the county," interjected Pannell.

The college held classes at the W. L. Gore & Associates plant in Elkton to educate workers in dealing with international custom rules and regulations.

Harvey Short, an associate involved in global logistics at the Gore-Tex plant, said 23 workers took the three-credit class which met one evening a week over four months.

Short said it was a quick way to increase the workers' knowledge of the documentation needed for shipments to other countries.

CCC has developed a partnership with the University of Delaware in nearby Newark. This arrangement allows CCC students to take University of Delaware classes toward four-year degrees in nursing and hospitality management without leaving home.

Pannill said the University of Delaware accepts three years of study done by students at CCC. The students use videotapes or classes offered on the Internet to finish the last year, he said. "The testing is done here."

"They can get their bachelor's degree without leaving home and at a considerable savings," Pannill said.

He said that instead of charging $500 a credit, as it normally would for out-of-state students, the University of Delaware fee "is more like $100, which is comparable to what in-state residents pay."

CCC's marketing program has the school out looking for students.

Lane said the college uses a direct-mail campaign to reach 3,000 to 5,000 prospective students each year.

It also uses telemarketing. "We make phone calls to prospective students to make sure their needs are met and their questions are answered," Lane said.

She said the school is exploring the use of e-mail as a way to reach prospective students.

To accommodate the growth and to better serve the community, Pannill said that CCC expects to start construction this summer on a $12 million, 50,000- square-foot, three-story campus building in Elkton that could house up to 900 students.

"We have initiated a number of new programs," said Pannill. "There's not one thing that we can point to and say this is the reason for our success."

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