Local college's accessibility draws students

Location: Anne Arundel Community College opened a facility at Arundel Mills in the fall, and a center on the Arnold campus is being constructed.

May 16, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ask many students why they're attending Anne Arundel Community College and location is likely to be a major factor.

That's why when it was clear that residents in the western part of the county would benefit from a campus at Arundel Mills, a building was constructed through a collaboration among the college, its foundation, the county and the Mills Corp.

The $10.6 million facility opened last fall and offers credit and noncredit courses that include general education, business management and computer-information systems. Among its features: 22 general classrooms, eight computer labs, a lecture hall that seats 134, and six seminar and conference rooms.

"This makes the college more accessible to people in the western side of the county," said Paul Trader, president of AACC's student association. "The students like it, and it's right near the mall."

In August, the college plans to open the Center for Applied Learning and Technology building on the main campus in Arnold, about 10 minutes from downtown Annapolis.

The $21.2 million facility will offer courses that include business, technology and engineering. The building will have 23 classrooms, 24 labs, two studios, one 80-seat lecture hall and a 2,400-square-foot multipurpose room.

According to this year's enrollment figures, about 250 more students are taking credit courses at AACC than last year, bringing the total to 13,444 students. Noncredit enrollment was 33,895 for fiscal year 2003, the most recent figures available.

Full-time enrollment rose 4.3 percent over last year, with 31 percent of the student body taking at least 12 credit hours. And the fastest-growing segment of the credit-student population is the traditional, college-age 18- to 21-year-olds.

AACC has come a long way since its inception in 1961, when the county Board of Education named Anne Arundel Junior College a comprehensive community center of higher learning.

Two months later, the board changed the name to Anne Arundel Community College and identified Severna Park High School as its location. Then-AACC President Andrew G. Truxel organized the purchase of the Arnold campus in 1963, and the college made the site its home in 1967.

Now, the main campus has eight academic buildings, a gymnasium, pool, student services center, astronomy lab, 365-seat performing arts center, library, two art galleries and a 2,500-seat athletic field.

Martha A. Smith, president of AACC since 1994, is credited with espousing a "students first" philosophy, developing a five-year strategic plan for the college, and uniting some credit and noncredit programs to share resources.

"Our faculty make learning an exciting voyage, and our state-of-the-art classrooms and labs support their journey," she said.

During the past fiscal year, the college offered 2,700 credit and noncredit courses. Students can earn an associate's degree or certificate in 138 programs or options, according to figures from the college.

AACC's three largest programs and their enrollments for this spring were associate of arts in general studies, 3,239; associate of sciences in business administration, 665; and associate of sciences in nursing, 445.

High-profile programs include the new Entrepreneurial Studies Institute, which opened last fall after Philip E. Ratcliffe, a county business owner, donated $1 million to help fund scholarships at the institute. Students will learn how to write a business plan, secure funding and practice financial and managerial accounting.

"We had over 100 applicants apply for over $285,000 in scholarships," said Carlene Cassidy, who runs the institute. "We awarded scholarships to 35."

The college also has partnerships with four-year public and private colleges that allow students to earn associate's degrees at AACC and then transfer credits to four-year institutions to obtain bachelor's degrees.

Some colleges and universities have agreed to allow students who have earned associate's degrees to take courses toward their bachelor's degrees at the Arundel Mills site. Participants include the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, McDaniel College, the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland, University College.

Trader, 19, of Millersville is majoring in medical science and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland, University College next year.

"I decided to attend here because I heard it was a great system," he said of AACC. "I knew that all my credits would automatically transfer to the University of Maryland, and I knew about the college being named [Community College of the Year in 2001] by the National Alliance of Business."

College officials say there are several reasons traditional-age college students are drawn to AACC. They include an increase in the number of high school graduates, a quality education, selectivity at four-year institutions, a location close to home and price.

Despite its growth, however, the college continues to struggle financially because of dwindling county and state funds, said AACC spokeswoman Linda Schulte.

"We lost $11.6 million over the last two years from the state and county," she said.

The college's proposed $71.4 million budget for next fiscal year, which must be approved by County Executive Janet S. Owens and the County Council, calls for a $7 per credit tuition increase. Beginning in August, county residents would see their tuition rise from $76 to $83 per credit hour. Nonresidents would pay $159.

Despite the increases, Schulte said, the college wants to be known for its "accessibility and affordability" and hopes that the college's financial picture improves.

Trader said students are "pretty annoyed" by the increase but are "very supportive of decisions by the administration."

"If there's a choice between cutting programs and raising tuition, we'd rather see the tuition raised," he said.

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