HCC SouthShore president ‘amazed’ at campus growth

By LOIS KINDLE

Hillsborough Community College SouthShore currently has two buildings on campus: its original Academic Building, right, and the new Science & Technology Center, left. A third is in the planning stages. Lois Kindle photos.

Hillsborough Community College SouthShore currently has two buildings on campus: its original Academic Building, right, and the new Science & Technology Center, left. A third is in the planning stages. Lois Kindle photos.

June 2 2016 — When Hillsborough Community College opened a new Ruskin campus less than eight years ago, Allen Witt never imagined how fast it would grow. But by the end of its inaugural school year, there were definite signs of things to come.

HCC SouthShore had held classes in leased office space at the Sun Point Shopping Center since 2003. Enrollment there had grown to about 600 students per school year, said Witt, then academic dean and now campus president. Once the college’s new academic building at 551 24th St. N.E. opened, its student body burgeoned to 1,652.

“That seemed huge at the time,” Witt said, explaining that planners originally thought the campus would open with around 400 students. “So we were obviously delighted with the support we received from the community.”

Enrollment numbers increased exponentially as each new school year wrapped. The campus recently ended its 2015/2016 school year with 7,312 students, more than quadruple its 2008/2009 enrollment.

“Our summer enrollment is now 60 percent of the Brandon campus and 61 percent of the Ybor City campus,” Witt said, noting those sites are major urban campuses that have been open since the early 1980s. “And we are 37 percent of our flagship campus on Dale Mabry in Tampa (established in 1970).”

An expanded faculty and additional programs have resulted from the campus’ growth.

“We started with three full-time and 50-plus part-time instructors and 16 staff members,” Witt said. “Today we have 23 full-time and 110 part-time faculty members and a staff of more than 50,” he said.

The college opened with an emergency medical technician vocational program and courses leading to associate’s degrees transferrable to any four-year college in the state. Its offerings now include a three-year associate’s degree in registered nursing and, in association with the University of South Florida, a four-year bachelor’s degree in registered nursing students can earn while taking classes at the SouthShore campus.

In August 2008 the campus opened Lennard Collegiate Academy, which gave participating high school students the opportunity to dual enroll and earn college credits. The original class was 17 teens. Two-hundred-eighty-six students took advantage of the program during the 2015/2016 school year.

Allen Witt, president of Hillsborough Community College’s SouthShore campus, is amazed at the school’s current enrollment numbers. “I never thought we’d do this in my lifetime,” he said.

Allen Witt, president of Hillsborough Community College’s SouthShore campus, is amazed at the school’s current enrollment numbers. “I never thought we’d do this in my lifetime,” he said.

“Next year we expect a minimum of 350,” Witt said. “HCC has three academies (at Lennard, Leto and Armwood high schools), and we were the first and are the largest in Hillsborough County.

“It’s a great program because high school students who participate can earn an AA degree before they actually graduate from high school,” Witt continued. “It’s tuition-free, the school district pays for the books and the AA degree is transferrable everywhere.”

Last August, HCC opened the campus’ new Science & Technology Center, which enabled the school to decommission seven of its 18 portable classroom buildings. Permanent instructional space increased by 80 percent, Witt said. For the first time, the campus was able to expand its number of physics classes and offer organic chemistry.

In addition to wide and continued support from the community, Witt credits the campus’ convenient accessibility to I-75 and a flexible class schedule as reasons for its rapid growth. About 60 percent of the students at the Ruskin campus are from South Shore. The remainder come from all over Hillsborough County, some from Pasco and some from Manatee (counties).

“We try to offer the classes students want at the time they need them,” he said.

Further growth is on the horizon.

For each of the past two years, a third building was approved by both Florida houses with “tremendous help from State Senator Tom Lee,” Witt said. “But the governor (Scott) vetoed the project, and we are working with his staff to bring it back next year. The building will be used for student services and vocational and corporate training.”

The college is considering opening a satellite center in Wimauma two years from now to offer student services, financial aid, counseling and basic classes to working adults in the community who would like to further their educations. The center would offer late afternoon, night and weekend classes, bilingual instructors and staff and provide residents with additional options for future success.

Meanwhile, Witt is savoring those enrollment numbers, as is County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who supported the new campus from its planning stages and used her influence legislatively to bring it to Ruskin.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Murman. “It shows the growth of the area, not only in (the number of) residents but also in businesses.

“The campus is a wonderful hub for South Shore,” she added. “Having Amazon and HCC right next door to each other has had a major impact on the region. It’s a tremendous resource for the community.”

For additional information on HCC SouthShore, call 813-259-6100 or visit www.hccfl.edu/southshore.aspx.

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