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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

The University Center at CJC:
 A Higher Degree of Success

Chipola Junior 
College, FL

Historically, rural communities residents have had limited access to postsecondary education. The development and expansion of community colleges during the 1950s and 60s reached toward more rural counties and offered new options and opportunities for postsecondary education. Moving into the next century, Chipola Junior College (CJC) has taken learning opportunities and postsecondary degree programs to an even higher level of success for it's rural county population. 

Chipola Junior College is part of the state-funded and strongly supported Florida Community College System. In spite of this, CJC's location at Marianna, Florida-a poorer, rural region of northwest Florida-offers an economy dependent on agriculture and forestry. Geographically based in the Florida panhandle, part of the community college district borders on the Georgia and Alabama state lines, and far exceeds commuting distance to Florida universities and four-year institutions. As with many rural communities, distance is clearly a barrier for CJC graduates, and over half of the Associates in Arts (AA) graduates did not continue their education due to financial, family, or job constraints which prohibited commuting or moving closer to state university service areas. 

In spite of new state and national strategic plans calling for greater access to postsecondary education and greater collaboration between community colleges and universities, CJC students encountered overwhelming barriers to achieving postsecondary educational goals. Overcrowding throughout the Florida State University System creates additional access problems that are exacerbated annually. Large classes and little student-instructor interaction do not provide optimal learning conditions and present a special dilemma for community college graduates from rural areas who often suffer from "transfer shock." 

The challenges and roadblocks for CJC graduates attempting to transfer to four-year universities were clearly evident to CJC faculty and administrators. Providing access to baccalaureate degrees to the underserved residents in Chipola's district became a high priority for CJC, and in 1999, college administrators and faculty created The University Center at Chipola Junior College. 

Project Planning and Strategies for Educational Improvement
The 'anytime, anyplace' philosophy of distance learning was adopted as new ideas to re-purpose existing CJC facilities were developed. More productive use of classrooms; computer, science and business labs; offices; a fiber optic network; and other facilities that were not fully used in the evenings or on weekends offered cost-effective opportunities to bring a wide range of four-year degrees to CJC. 

The initial scope of the University Center (UC) Project involved collaboration between CJC and two state universities-Florida State Univeristy (FSU) and University of West Florida (UWF)-to develop, implement, evaluate, and disseminate a model for offering bachelor degree programs by universities on rural community college campuses. In the year 2000, a BS degree in nursing (FSU) and BA degrees in criminal justice, elementary education, and social work (UWF) were first offered as postsecondary degree programs on CJC's campus. In addition to course offerings, project faculty and staff dedicated time and resources to the development of more seamless curriculum offerings between Chipola and the university participants. 

Critical components of the UC project were the creation of a strong learning environment and support services for students enrolling in the UC project. A program goal included replicating of CJC's student-centered climate and sense of community while creating a rigorous and challenging university experience. A student support network was created to meet the specific needs of UC students. A UC student advisory committee was created with student representation from each degree program and the responsibility of regularly meeting and bringing concerns and suggestions to UC program coordinators and staff.

CJC faculty and staff adopted a blend of university procedures for admission, financial aid, registration, disabled student services, and advising to make them more responsive to the unique needs of UC students, while also including UC students as a full part of the CJC campus environment. Like all Chipola students, UC students obtain ID cards that allow them to participate in all Chipola student activities and events. 

The unique contributing factors of the UC project are not only found in the facilities or the curriculum. Multiple work and family obligations, as well as long absences from student and classroom experiences, tend to make many UC students unsure of themselves. The UC coordinators, UC academic advisors, and UC staff take generous time to reassure students, ease their transition to bachelor degree programs, acquaint them with procedures, tour the classroom facilities, introduce instructors, and generally create a more familiar and inviting learning environment. 

Student-friendly procedures for UC admission, registration, and advising were developed to introduce and better orient students to the roles and requirements of university students. These processes and procedures include the following elements: 

  • A full-time academic advisor is dedicated and designated as the 
    UC Advisor.

  • All Chipola academic advisors have been trained and are knowledgeable of the lower- and upper-level requirements for each degree offered through the UC.

  • Chipola's Student Services Department directly collaborated with participating university personnel to develop term-by-term curriculum guides for lower and upper level courses in each program.

  • University personnel from the Offices of the Registrar, Admissions, Financial Aid, and the academic departments make regularly scheduled visits to the Chipola campus to disseminate information and provide assistance in all enrollment procedures. In addition, all necessary university forms are kept in UC offices and students are offered guidance and assistance through the admission, financial aid, and enrollment processes.

  • A designated university program coordinator for each participating university is available. If students encounter difficulties, UC and university personnel work together toward resolution. UC personnel and university program coordinators are available throughout the year to assist students in any way possible.

  • Finally, concurrent enrollment consortium agreements were developed with each university so that students taking courses concurrently at CJC and the university can receive financial aid for all courses.

Flexibility is another critical element of the University Center. Classes are scheduled nights and weekends to best meet UC student schedules, not professorial research schedules. There is also a fully operational and accredited daycare facility on the CJC campus to serve family needs and ease childcare obligations. 

To foster a university environment and a community of learners, CJC renovated a designated campus building with offices and a large student area called the UC Student Commons. The Commons, decorated to have the feel of a study or coffeehouse, is equipped with comfortable chairs, study tables, student computers, a printer, a FAX machine, and information about each UC degree. Information, advising, and registration sessions are held in the Commons-adjacent to the UC coordinators' offices-to create a more central, one-stop approach to service. Students use the Commons area as a gathering and study place, and coffee and soft drinks are available. The Commons provides a great meeting place for UC students and, the area gives UC students a home on Chipola's campus.

University Center Faculty 
All faculty-including adjuncts-in the UC programs at CJC are university personnel and must satisfy the same criteria as those teaching on the main campuses. Many classes are taught by tenured professors who commute from their university to the CJC campus one day a week or by other flexible options. A number of classes are taught by adjuncts. Extensive adjunct orientation assures that the courses will be consistent with those taught on the main campus. Some classes are taught in two-way video/audio classrooms. For example, one week the instructor will transmit from the Pensacola (UWF) classroom to the Chipola UC classroom. The following week, the instructor transmits from Chipola UC classroom to UWF. Students in the remote classroom hear and see their professor, and the professor is able to hear and see them. They can ask and respond to questions just as students in the UWF classroom can. As university personnel teach all courses, meeting all university baccalaureate degree requirements, degrees are then awarded by each sponsoring university. 

University Center Project Results
The primary goal of the project began as greater access to bachelor's degrees and postsecondary learning opportunities by area residents. In addition to access, more measurable outcomes included retention rates, completion rates, and levels of student satisfaction comparable to or higher than those of students who transferred to universities.

Within the second year of the UC project, more than 200 students enrolled in UC degree programs. The average retention rate for first-year UC students in all campus-based degree programs is 92.1 percent. This is a significant gain over the 73.2 percent retention of freshman at UC project participating universities. Although formal conclusions on this outstanding retention have not been drawn, UC directors attribute student success to the following factors:

  • UC students come from a population that has been traditionally underserved educationally. The UC degrees provide an opportunity that students could not have had otherwise and the great value that they place on this opportunity is evident in their motivation, commitment, and hard work.

  • The support network provided by the UC keeps students from falling through the cracks. Where many students might just give up in the frustrating environment of many large universities, UC students know they have many immediate support services within reach.

  • The small class ratio and individual attention offered to UC students are also significant success factors. Students are not lost in an anonymous institution, but continue to grow, learn, and contribute within their own home community. 

Student surveys consistently indicate high levels of satisfaction with the facilities, instructors, and UC services. UC students' gratitude and spirit are captured in comments such as the following, "The UC is an answer to prayer for me and my family. I could never have gone back to school without it."

Summary and Developments
Prior to the initiation of the UC Project, Florida universities and colleges were not interested in delivering degrees at small, rural colleges like Chipola Junior College. Now, due to the success of the UC Project, universities are eager to offer degrees on CJC's campus and five of the 12 universities in the state have signed on-University of West Florida, Florida State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, University of Central Florida, and the University of Florida. The UC Center offers 5 on-campus baccalaureate degree programs, as well as master's and doctoral programs on the CJC campus. In addition to campus-based programs, the UC Project offers a number of online degree options through Florida's Virtual Campus. 

One of the greater and unanticipated benefits of the UC Project is the notable improvement in the quality of teaching at CJC. In addition to student benefits, the UC Project has offered new options to CJC faculty and many have enrolled in doctoral programs offered through participating universities on CJC's campus. Instructors have used many new and innovative principles and strategies from these professional development and course programs to improve their classrooms and learning environments. These improvements are felt throughout the college and have stimulated connection and collaboration throughout the state. 

Finally, access to and availability of baccalaureate and graduate degrees engenders greater focus, purpose, and confidence in students who previously could see no way to continue beyond an A.A. degree. These are the goals of lifelong learning and building stronger communities. 

For more information, contact:
Kitty Myers
Project Director
Chipola Junior College
(850) 718-2260

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