No plans to slow down

As Harford Community College reaches its 50th year, the school is hitting a new stride

January 28, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

HCC savors growing gains Launched in 1957 with a $10,000 grant from the county government, Harford Junior College - as it was known back then - opened its doors with 119 students and 16 staff members.

The college offered night courses at $7 per credit hour in classrooms at Bel Air High School. "When I first started teaching, I had a classroom that I shared with the other part-time instructors," said Dorothy Dare, 84, an Aberdeen resident who taught math in the school's inaugural year. "The rooms were sparsely furnished with a teacher's desk, a chalkboard and desks for the students. Of course there was no technology back then."

Oh, how things have changed over five decades.

Today Harford Community College has a $36 million operating budget and occupies 21 brick-and-glass buildings spread out across 332 acres on Thomas Run Road in Bel Air.

One of the county's largest employers with more than 900 employees, the institution offers courses at $77 per credit hour to more than 7,700 students, and noncredit courses to more than 15,000 people. And as the school kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration with a gala yesterday, school officials are working on a plan that calls for expanding programs and facilities so as to better attract students, including those who will accompany the looming growth coming to the county via the national military base realignment process.

"We want to show people that anyone who wants to get an education can," said James F. LaCalle, the school's president. LaCalle said HCC is among the most affordable institutions in Maryland.

HCC offers two-year associate's degrees in subjects such as accounting, history, art, music, biology, nursing and allied health; certificates in trades such as woodworking and computer skills; noncredit courses and job training.

The growth of HCC parallels the development of community colleges and a rise in their appeal as a viable option for postsecondary education.

"The traditional mission of the community college is open access," said Pat Stanley, the deputy assistant secretary for community colleges with the U.S. Department of Education. "All you have to do to get in is to be an adult. It has always been there as an option for the first two years of college. Although in the past, community colleges have been viewed as not providing high-quality education, that's changing now."

In an effort to meet the growing demand for affordable education, HCC is working on a plan to build a west campus, offer upper-level courses through Towson University, update technology in the classroom, and renovate and expand facilities.

The west campus initiative would entail the development of 100 acres the school owns, LaCalle said. Buildings proposed for the site include a branch of Towson University, a general nursing and allied health building, and a trades and apprenticeship building.

"We have just about used all the space we have available now," LaCalle said.

Expanding the link with Towson is another priority, LaCalle said. In addition to offering upper-level Towson courses at HCC, the two schools want to ease the transfer of credits and implement a full degree program, said William Reuling, the assistant to the provost of Towson.

Allison Kern, a 19-year-old HCC student, said she looks forward to such improvements. Kern selected HCC because it was more affordable and more convenient than a four-year-college, the Fallston High graduate said.

"A lot of my friends came to HCC for the same reasons," the Edgewood resident said. "And when we finish our first two years, we'll have an easy transition to Towson."

Next fall, an integrated elementary and special education bachelor's program will be taught by Towson faculty at HCC, Reuling said. Students can take courses toward a Towson degree.

HCC officials say they are keeping in mind the coming expansion of Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is expected to bring tens of thousands of new jobs and residents to the county in the next few years and increase the need for a four-year school.

"People need to have the option of a school in their own community," Reuling said. "Now they have to travel the Beltway or country roads to get to their classes [at other schools]."

Online courses are also on the increase. In 2006, the college offered about 40 online classes to about 3,500 students, LaCalle said. He attributes the program's popularity to the accessibility of the courses, and the convenience and flexibility of taking classes at home.

Having been at HCC for 36 years, LaCalle can appreciate the progress the college has made. He recalled a time back in 1971 when teachers would go out to eat with students and use food as a tool for teaching math.

"The instructors used the pizzas to teach fractions," LaCalle said. "We tried to make teaching and learning fun. We wanted to teach the students what happens after the textbook."

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