A hallmark of community colleges is that they are actually in the communities they serve, close to where their students live and work. But sometimes they aren’t in enough places at once.
Ten years ago, the presidents of Prince George’s Community College and Howard Community College realized that neither of their institutions reached the Maryland town of Laurel.
So was born the Laurel College Center, a partnership between the institutions, which share costs and faculty. “It’s unusual because the students take classes together,” says Nancy Grinberg, program director of Laurel College Center.
Students who attend the center don’t have the ability to easily take classes on either main campus. “Ten years ago, there weren’t as many online classes, which aren’t for everyone anyway,” she adds.
In 2004, the center added university partners allowing students to take their first two years with one of the community colleges and then go on to an upper level degree at the same location offered by one of the five university partners.
The center has grown from 137 enrollments when it opened to 2,335 enrollments in Fall 2011.
“I would say there is a real need for these regional higher ed centers,” says Grinberg. “The number one reason students give for attending a center is location.” Students at the center have expressed a preference for face-to-face classes, although some take advantage of the hybrid classes offered by some of the four-year partners that meet online and in person.
As with traditional community colleges, the center is adding and altering programs in response to the needs of the area, including increasing nursing and STEM offerings. “Every area has their own needs for a regional higher ed center,” says Grinberg. “It’s important to stay aware of who your students are and what they need.”
Other regional centers include the Collin Higher Education Center (Texas), the University Center of North Puget Sound (Wash.), the University Center of Greenville (S.C.), and the University Center of Lake County Illinois.