Signs of coming into its own

Carroll Community College is on fast-track for growth

September 03, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

Evidence of Carroll Community College's growth is unmistakable.

Consider that recently, the county commissioners approved nearly $2 million for design plans on a 77,000-square-foot academic building that school officials hope to open in the fall of 2009. The perpetually crowded 1,200-space parking lot has prompted plans for an additional 270-space lot.

And the Westminster college's continuing education department recently reported record revenue of nearly $1.2 million -- a 13 percent increase over the 2004-2005 school year.

With expectations that this year's enrollment will exceed last year's, college officials said they are working diligently to anticipate and respond to the community's educational needs. "We have to prepare for the growth," said Faye Pappalardo, who has worked at the college for 18 years -- the past seven as president. "We have to ... provide the very best we can for our students and the business community."

Last year, the school earned the distinction of being the state's fastest-growing community college.

With an enrollment that grew by about 47 percent between 2000 and last year, it experienced more than twice the rate of growth of community colleges across the state, which grew by an average of 20 percent during that same period.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission projects the college's full-time equivalent enrollment to grow by 33 percent during the next 10 years -- reaching more than 3,300 by the 2014-2015 school year.

The school's continuing education department enrolled more than 9,000 students in the 2004-2005 school year.

Nearly half of Carroll County residents who attend college chose Carroll Community College in the 2004-2005 school year -- a rate that was four times higher than the next most-popular college for enrolling its own county residents, according to data compiled by the college in its analysis of factors contributing to its growth. In second place was Towson University, which enrolled about 10 percent of Baltimore County residents who attended a Maryland college.

"The prestige of the community college has come into its own in the past 10 years," said James Ball, vice president of academic and student affairs, who is also dean of the faculty.

In interviews last week, Pappalardo, Ball and other college officials attributed the school's growth to its reputation of quickly responding to workplace and educational trends.

"We're trying to keep up with what people are interested in and expand our programs," said Karen Merkle, vice president of continuing education and training. "The real story behind our revenue [growth] is that we're just serving a lot more people. A lot more people are coming through our doors. The revenue follows enrollment, which helps us build new programs."

Enrollment in the continuing education department climbed 16 percent from the 2003-2004 to the 2005-2006 school year, according to school records.

Merkle said the boost came largely from popular programs such as those in information technology, certification and licensure, nursing and allied health, online courses and the Summer Kids@Carroll program -- which enrolled nearly 1,000 children this summer, twice as many as last year.

"Our faculty is getting better at predicting" the best courses to offer, Merkle said. "We're ... keeping up with workplace trends and economic development needs, but staying a little ahead of the trends."

Craig Clagett, vice president for planning, marketing and assessment, said several factors are fueling the college's growth, including the county's population increase, the high percentage of residents who stay in the county for college, the boost in women's enrollment and new programs that address local employment needs.

He said there also is greater appreciation for the value of a community college education. Carroll's annual tuition rate of $3,234 is a bargain when compared with $27,000 at McDaniel College in Westminster, he said.

"I think we're also doing a better job of getting the word out and letting folks know we're here," he said.

To accommodate anticipated growth and current students, college officials plan to spend an estimated $31 million to build a three-story, 77,000-square-foot building, which would be the school's fourth classroom facility and its largest building. It primarily would house offices, classrooms, chemistry and forensics labs and a computer lab.

"We're near capacity now during our prime time of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., meaning every available classroom is being used," said Alan Schuman, executive vice president of administration. "We can safely assume we'll be at capacity with the new programs that are being planned. Those are not things we can accommodate in our current space."

If the state Board of Public Works approves the school's contract with an architectural firm in October, college officials hope to have design plans by next fall to solicit bids from contractors.

If all goes according to plan, construction would begin in January 2008 and the school would begin holding classes in the building in the fall of 2009.

Schuman said the new classroom building and additional parking space would likely accommodate the college for the next five to 10 years.

"Until then, we should be in pretty good shape," he said.

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