Diversifying With Auxiliary Services
Across the country, community colleges have tried to regain economic footing by increasing efficiencies, differentiating their campuses to make them more marketable to students, and capitalizing on new revenue streams.
The Middle College High School, located on the Los Angeles Southwest College campus, exemplifies the growing trend to develop joint-use facilities as one way to increase efficiencies. Working with the LACCD and the Los Angeles Unified School District, HMC Architects is designing a permanent Middle College facility on the community college’s campus to maximize shared resources. Previously, the high school operated in portable classrooms on the campus.
Other community colleges are providing on-campus housing—an emerging trend that reflects the changing needs served by community-college education. According to the AACC, on-campus housing is available at 254 public and 62 independent community colleges. In California, residence halls sit on 11 community college campuses, and the concept continues to gain traction nationwide. In Rochester, N.Y., five dormitories serve Monroe Community College, while in Key West, Fla., this fall, students at Florida Keys Community College will be the first residents of the school’s new Lagoon Landing facility, a 100-bed, waterfront residence hall.
Housing helps a school attract nonresident and international students, Grummon says. Furthermore, providing auxiliary services such as dorms and cafeterias can have a positive impact on a school’s bottom line. These services don’t only need to be self-supporting, she says; they need to turn a profit.
On-campus housing is just one way that schools are differentiating themselves to court selective students.
When Co Architects designed Los Angeles Valley College’s Allied Health & Sciences Center, the college didn’t have the funding for a spacious lobby. So the firm designed an exterior walkway that connects the center’s two three-story buildings and serves as a “great outdoor room.” Shielded by a solar canopy, the outdoor plaza features teaching gardens, an outdoor classroom, and a stormwater-retention pond. “We covered the courtyard with a solar array to generate electricity, but there was a double benefit—it could serve as a lobby,” says Andrew Labov, AIA, a principal at Co Architects. (The LACCD and the original contractor, FTR International of Irvine, have since become engaged in a court dispute over the construction of this building and other recent projects.)
At MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Calif., HMC Architects, which is also working with 34 other California community colleges, is finalizing a comprehensive master plan that would transform the campus into a typical four-year university environment—which Shepley describes as more collegiate, with an advanced interest in sustainability.
“We are developing the campus to cater to transfer students—to look like a four-year college more than a community college, not just in buildings, but through quads and other public spaces,” Shepley says.
Transfer students aren’t the only ones being sought after by community colleges. The AACC and the Association of Community College Trustees reports that international students at community colleges increased by 57.9 percent between 1993 and 2003. And in the 2007–08 academic year, non-U.S. students made up 6 percent of the nation’s community college population. Consequently, some community colleges are adding facilities to appeal to students seeking intensive English language education.
With English as a Second Language (ESL) students numbering more than 5,000, Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y., educates more ESL students than any other educational institution in the county. Responding to this demand and the county’s increasing diversity, the school partnered with New York–based Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects) to design the 70,000-square-foot Gateway Center. The LEED Gold facility, which was completed in 2010, serves as a welcome center for the entire campus as well as the college’s English Language Institute and the Professional Development Center.
According to Shepley, community colleges, especially workforce training programs, need to stay in tune with the labor market for both U.S. and international students.
Whereas community colleges once primarily trained criminal justice workers, emergency medical technicians, and firefighters, hiring practices have shifted. Community colleges now emphasize green technology and allied health professions—especially training for licensed practical nurses, Grummon says. Curricula and facilities have followed suit.
While many schools across the nation offer training in sustainable- and alternative-energy technology, Omaha, Neb.–based Metropolitan Community College made news when it partnered with IBM in 2009 to offer green-data-center management degrees. The program is supported by a new academic data center on the school’s Fremont Area campus, but all courses in the green-data-center management track are offered online so that remote students can gain the same skills as those on campus, including virtual access to the physical data center itself.
More and more schools are adding distance-learning components like Metropolitan’s to their curriculums, Shepley says. And the AACC projects that the future of community colleges includes a greater emphasis on such options. As public funding continues to diminish, technology is expected to give schools the ability to confer more degrees to more students without expanding their physical campuses. However, distancing learning may be used for hybrid situations in which a student might complete a portion of the coursework online and then come to the campus for discussions or lab work.
Shepley doesn’t worry that online courses are going to make community college campuses obsolete. “Online education helps schools reach more people, helps [achieve] growth when you don’t have space,” Shepley says. “But that doesn’t mean you need less space.”