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Southshore’s HCC striding toward another sign of success

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RUSKIN – What does a new college site become when it grows up?
It’s recognized as a real college campus… officially, undisputedly, and ceremonially.
This is exactly what’s in store this autumn as the result of astonishing growth at the three-year-old Hillsborough Community College SouthShore site here. And it’s coming at least five years before even the most knowledgeable thought it possible.

Originally expected to be for years only a small satellite in the Hillsborough Community College network of six facilities scattered across the county, the SouthShore school has grown beyond all predictions. Nearly 5,000 students have registered during the last year, the faculty has increased by five times since the college opened in 2007 and some of those taking classes when the fall semester begins will be using modular classrooms. The growth is taking the facility from classification as a “center” to full-fledged college campus status. Melody Jameson photo
HCC SouthShore, actually Ruskin’s second college in the last 100 years, opened in August, 2007, with one building on 60 acres between the new Lennard High School and the developing SouthShore Corporate Park at the eastern end of Shell Point Road. It seemed immense after the early storefront setting in a strip mall on S.R. 674 where computer classes were conducted.
Located on land donated by the pioneering Dickman family, whose ancestors also played major roles in Ruskin’s first college, the contemporary HCC was to have been for some years what professional educators call a “center” , a satellite but not a full-fledged campus among the six sites that now constitute the community college’s county-wide network.
That, though, was before the communities of the South County took it as their own.
HCC SouthShore is expected to attain full college campus status – an actual state designation - this summer, according to Dr. Allen Witt, SouthShore president. And when it happens, it will be celebrated, he added with emphatic enthusiasm.
The reasons are in the numbers. Class enrollments at the SouthShore facility are up 105 percent, he noted with not a little wonder, adding that the entire HCC network enrollment increased in the last year by 11 percent and a goodly part of that figure may be attributed to the Ruskin site.
Dr. Allen Witt
President, HCC SouthShore Campus
Such demand, of course, requires an appropriate balance of supply. With all of its 13 original classrooms in full use, portable modules now are being positioned adjacent to the new building. When the fall semester opens, a total of 10 are expected to be in place, most of them earmarked for classrooms, one to serve as a testing center.
Then there’s the matter of faculty. Three years ago, HCC SouthShore opened with three full-time college level instructors and a small roster of adjunct or part-time teachers – many achievers in their chosen professions - lined up to share their expertise for a class or two. The staffing was thought to be more than adequate to manage maybe 700, or, at most, an unlikely maximum of 800 enrollments. After all, the academic expectation was that the 1,500 mark would be reached only in the next decade.
This fall, the HCC SouthShore semester will open with 17 full time professors up from 11 last term, 77 adjunct instructors and a support staff topping 30, Witt said. “We’ve become one of the largest employers in the Ruskin area,” he added. And, the number of students registered during the last year? A total of 4,862.
Jean Stellato
Nursing Faculty
As for the factors driving the unexpected growth , Witt and several of the administration suggest multiple circumstances play a role. The convenient location, the open setting, still sufficient parking as new lots are made available, and an informal friendliness all are attractions, they said.
Then there are the dual enrollment links forged with the three South County senior high schools — East Bay, Lennard, and Riverview — whereby high schoolers in their junior and senior years can take on college level coursework and earn up to 30 credit hours before their high school graduations. In fact, Riverview as a community sends three times the students to HCC SouthShore that any other single locale does, Witt said. And, he added, this summer seven college level classes will be conducted at Riverview HS.
Yet another factor is the current and lingering economic climate. Judy Nolasco, Dean of Academic Affairs, pointed to the popularity of the “workforce” courses, those shorter term training programs that prepare students to better compete in tight job markets without spending several years earning Associate or Bachelor Degrees.
Judy Nolasco
Dean, Academic Affairs
One of them is the Emergency Medical Services program which is filled to capacity every semester by students beginning their careers as well as by others looking for a career change, said Larry Linder, master-degreed faculty member. Part of HCC SouthShore’s original curriculum, the program produces Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) in a single semester and Paramedics in three semesters. And a full 93 percent of the SouthShore candidates passed their state examinations last fall – the highest success rate in the entire college network, Witt said.
The clear need for workforce training is prompting consideration of a wider variety for SouthShore, Nolasco said. At present, she added, she’s looking into expanding the curriculum to include such courses as medical coding and billing as well as a gerontology-related program and something dealing with energy as people become increasingly interested in energy sources and conservation.
Larry Linder
EMS-Paramedic Faculty
On the other hand, most students entering HCC SouthShore still aspire to a degree that translates readily into state licensure or will take them on to a university to complete studies for the Baccalaureate or higher degrees. One highly popular example is the two-year registered nurse program led by nursing faculty member Jean Stellato.
Open to students who have accumulated 21 credits in pre-requisite courses including anatomy and physiology, the class limited to 24 filled up quickly, Stellato said, adding she easily could have registered at least another three or four who were fully qualified. The nursing instructor, herself an RN with a master’s degree, noted she expects all 24 – with no drop-outs — will be “pinned” in the traditional, solemn ceremony inducting the new graduate nurses, come December, 2011.
Meanwhile, hundreds of other students will be completing the customary early college courses – English Composition, various timeframes in History, Sociology, Science, Algebra as well as the higher maths, Philosophy and more – at a cost of $87.38 per credit hour for Florida residents without scholarships. The current HCC credit hour fee for non-Florida residents is $318.35.
To meet the demand, Witt and his staff recently completed both a five- year and a 10-year plan which call ultimately for four more college buildings and commensurate parking facilities by 2020, along with appropriate levels of faculty and staff, he said. Those plans soon will be reviewed by the HCC Board of Trustees and, although dollars for the capital expenditures are short at the state level, the SouthShore president indicated he’s hopeful.
Acknowledging he’s “a vision guy,” Witt said he foresees the HCC SouthShore campus of the future as a pivot point in the South County region, serving as an educational catalyst, contributing to orderly redevelopment, providing the training opportunities leading to functional employment.
In more than 30 years associated with community college education, Witt added with a note of amazement, “I’ve never seen anything like this. Ruskin really is a college town!”
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson

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