Students returning to Rappahannock Community College in the coming weeks will be greeted with multi-million dollar renovations, just one example of the many changes the school embarks on as it celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Thanks to a 2005 Virginia state bond referendum, the school has been able to complete $11 million worth of renovations to buildings at its Glenns and Warsaw campuses, according to RCC President Elizabeth "Sissy" Crowther. "We haven’t had a renovation of this magnitude ever," she said.
The project is focused on improving service to the college’s student body, with renovations to the student commons and collaborative study areas, Crowther said.
Major renovations are also being completed on the student lounge, to make that area more appealing to students, she said. Entrances to each campus will feature fresh architectural design as well.
Renovations are being done in two phases, each occurring simultaneously at the school’s two campuses. The first phase, scheduled to be completed by Jan. 1, will include the renovation of the student services area, student lounge, hallway areas, and the auditorium.
Hospitality tents will be set up during the first week of classes next week, with staff directing students around the construction areas and showing them how to get to their classrooms.
The second phase will see changes in the science labs and general classrooms, Crowther said.
With this phase, she said, "We’re not gaining footprint, but gaining utility in how we have things set up in existing space." The renovations will allow versatile lab space and will include improvements in computer simulation technology.
All renovations are expected to be completed by August 2011.
Enrollment and funding
The construction work is just part of the many changes RCC is seeing as the school year approaches. Crowther reported that the school graduated more students than ever this spring.
With increased enrollment, she reported that the school has awarded more financial aid and scholarship money to Gloucester and Mathews students than ever. In Gloucester, 203 students received $538,673.25 in 2008-09 and 245 students received $745,220.79 in 2009-10. In Mathews, 69 students received $190,155.06 in 2008-09 and 71 students received $213,349.52 in 2009-10.
Crowther said the RCC Educational Foundation, Inc., reached its goal of raising $3 million in new contributions in two years through its "Soaring Together" major gifts campaign. Funds from the campaign have boosted total assets of the Foundation to more than $5 million, which is used to generate scholarship awards, Crowther said. It is also used to help fund college programs and initiatives and to support professional development activities for RCC faculty and staff members.
"People need to understand we’re at the point where anyone who has a need can still go to college," she said. "We can find the money for them."
Crowther said RCC is the college most attended by students in Gloucester and Mathews. She said 48 percent of its student body, or 898 students from Gloucester County, attended RCC in the fall semester of 2009, while 37 percent or 187 students from Mathews attended.
In Gloucester, just behind RCC as top colleges students from the county attended included Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
In Mathews, after RCC, most students attended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Old Dominion, and Christopher Newport University in Newport News.
With the exception of Paul D. Camp Community College in Franklin, which saw a huge jump in enrollment following layoffs from the city’s paper mill, RCC had the largest percentage increase in enrollment this summer of schools in the state’s community college system.
"We saw a 29 percent increase this summer … and that’s really healthy," Crowther said. "Word is getting out," she added. "With this economy, it’s a worthwhile experience."
She said that RCC’s guaranteed admission program with larger colleges and universities in the state has drawn a lot of students. "People understand it’s a real good experience to come here for two years and partake of our guaranteed admissions agreement and go to one of the finest four-year colleges in Virginia," Crowther said.
"We’ve done a lot to strengthen our curriculum," Crowther added. She highlighted the new transfer concentration in business administration. She said the program provides a level of accounting and economics training beyond what students are taking in the business management program.
Crowther said five new career certificate programs have been made available to students, in the areas of web design, historic preservation, millwright technology, human services, legal assisting, and phlebotomy.
"We’ve really seen a boom in the workforce development area," Crowther said. RCC received the Vendor of the Year program for Canon in 2009, she said, and the school is currently doing a lot more training at the IRT site in Gloucester.
RCC has also taken on the adult education program for Newport News and Gloucester. "It’s a good fit in terms of the idea of retrieving folks and revitalizing folks for workforce who have not been served faithfully," Crowther said.
She said this complements the school’s Middle College Program, which allows 18-24 year-olds who have not completed high school or earned a GED to obtain either of those. It enhances basic workforce skills through project-based learning and awards a career readiness certificate.
In other news, the school has partnered with the Mathews Maritime Foundation to operate a marine trades program out of Gwynn’s Island. A diesel engine course started from that location last week, she added.
Finally, Crowther said RCC is working to employ career coaches in the local school districts. The career coaches, she said, work directly with students, both individually and in groups, providing information on career awareness, career assessment, career development, and academic/career progression.
For more information about the school and the various programs it offers, visit RCC’s newly designed website at www.rappahannock.edu.