In the fall of 1976, a branch of what was then Catonsville Community College opened in an old elementary school building on South Center Street in Westminster with a handful of professors who taught a few general education classes.
The group was the beginning of Carroll County's own community college, now considered a core educational institution for the county and surrounding area.
Situated on an 80-acre campus off Washington Road in Westminster, Carroll Community College offers students state-of-the art facilities, including a Nursing and Allied Health Building that opened last fall. The college graduated its 10th official class last spring.
Carroll Community College is a place where students want to be, college officials said.
Nearly 50 percent of students from county high schools who continue their education are starting at the community college, said Alan Schuman, executive vice president of administration.
"The college is relatively low-cost, high-quality, and we have students that seem to genuinely appreciate what they get here," Schuman said.
Judy Coen, chairwoman of the division of mathematics, sciences, health and wellness, said the college is not an "afterthought."
"We are not perceived as the place you go if you can't go anywhere else," she said. "This is a lot of students' first-choice school."
Over the past five years, the college's full-time-equivalent enrollment grew 44 percent, making it the fastest-growing of Maryland's 16 community colleges, according to statistics provided by Craig Clagett, vice president for planning, marketing and assessment.
Students can take classes for credit in about 40 programs, and the college officials project this year's full-time-equivalent enrollment to be slightly more than 2,500 students.
In contrast, Coen said she remembers when the college was just a conglomeration of courses that she and a few other professors taught at the branch location. The full-time-equivalent enrollment that year was 264.
"Because we were able to do such a good job with so little in an old elementary school, the community supported us in terms of producing the campus that we have now," Coen said.
Clagett also said that one reason for the college's growth is "citizens recognize the value of a community college education."
As the college keeps up with increasing enrollment, there are plans to continue developing the campus.
Planned projects include the addition of more handicapped parking spaces and the creation of a theater workshop area where students will be able to build sets and props, Schuman said.
A new 260-space parking lot is being planned, and the college is beginning to plan a 77,000- square-foot classroom building, Schuman said.
The building "is critical in our campus' ability to continue growing five to 10 years into the future," he said.
The college's most recent building project was the $6.1 million, 31,000-square-foot red-brick Nursing and Allied Health building, which houses the first class of registered nursing students. Before the building's opening, the college offered only a licensed practical nursing program, and students had to transfer to Frederick Community College or apply to another school to become a registered nurse.
Having the program at Carroll meets the growing demand for nurses in the community, said Faye Pappalardo, the college's president.
"I knew that there was a tremendous need, and it's always the responsibility of the community college to respond to the needs of the community," Pappalardo said.
Erika Maier, 49, of Eldersburg said the college met her needs because she could work and take evening classes.
"I was insecure about math, but they have great remedial math classes," Maier said. "I love the environment. It's conducive to learning and people are very friendly. The science classes were a little bit harder, but the teachers made the effort to make sure you understood."
Maier graduated three years ago and is employed at Carroll Hospital Center. Her daughter now takes classes at the college.
The community college opened to students at the current Washington Road location in September 1990, still as a branch of Catonsville. At that time the campus had one central administration and classroom building called the Great Hall, and one separate classroom building. The college became an independent institution three years later under the guidance of Joseph Shields, the first president.
Steven Pipes, 36, of Hanover graduated from the college in the spring of 1994. Pipes had been taking classes periodically through the college for several years and remembered being at the prior location.
He said the new site gave the college a more serious academic feel, especially when walking through Great Hall, which he described as a big beautiful building with huge windows that allow sunlight to stream in.
Pipes said he was never the most dedicated student, but after being at Carroll, he transferred to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.