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Times are a changin' at Westmoreland County Community College to keep up with developments in industry and the workplace, according to President Tuesday Stanley.
The college, based in Youngwood, has embraced a new slogan — “Ambitious” — as it embarks on a $43 million capital improvement program funded primarily through a bond issue approved by trustees last spring. Trustees approved a wide-ranging upgrade of buildings, programs and classrooms on the main campus over the next five years.
These efforts come on the heels of $31 million in facility investments, including the 2014 dedication of the state-of-the-art Advanced Technology Center in the former Sony plant in East Huntingdon and the 2015 opening of its satellite Latrobe Center, where enrollment has grown from just over 300 to 359 students this semester.
Those projects have enabled residents to gain precious advantages as they enter the workforce, Stanley said.
She noted WCCC's showpiece technology center is the only education facility of its kind “within 3 1⁄2 hours” of Westmoreland.
“Enrollment at the technology center continues to grow by double digits since its opening. You're talking about a student being all in, so to speak, at a cost of about $4,000, and leaving upon graduation with a job where they could earn $35,000 to more than $60,000 plus benefits. ... It's a tremendous opportunity right here,” Stanley said.
The center offers associate degrees, diplomas and certificates in computer numerical control/machine technology, 3-D printing, electrical utility technology, electronics, engineering technology, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, mechatronics, natural gas and oil, petroleum technology and welding.
While overall enrollment at the college dropped from about 7,000 students in 2011 to 5,250 for the 2015-16 school year, it shows signs of rebounding, officials said. Fall enrollment was 5,554.
Stanley noted among the first projects to be bid this spring under the capital improvement campaign will directly improve facilities in one of the college's most popular programs, nursing. It had a fall enrollment of 825.
When other health-related curriculums are included — dental assisting, dental hygiene, digital medical sonography, radiology and science technology — the enrollment grows to 1,287.
“Our nursing students had to attend classes in one building and then biology labs in a separate building. We're going to flip them ... creating five new combined classroom lecture labs (in Science Hall),” Stanley said.
The Science Hall project will include new labs for biology, anatomy and interdisciplinary work as well as faculty offices. Stanley said college officials are hopeful the classroom-labs will be ready in the fall.
Anna Marie Palatella, communications director at the college, noted the nursing program is popular with employers. In the past three years, the Excela Health System, headquartered in Greensburg, has hired 75 of its nursing graduates and is in the process of hiring six more, she said.
Another project involves construction of an addition to Founders Hall for the new “all-in-one” Student Success Center and Enrollment Center, reconfiguring space to create student lounges and relocating and expanding offices for faculty and staff. Most of the work should be completed by 2020, officials said.
Stanley lauded the college's recent receipt of a $2.25 million federal Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education that is to be spent in increments over five years.
It will enable the college to offer more online courses and create flexible online student support services.
With 77 percent of WCCC students holding jobs, making on-campus tutoring difficult to schedule, Stanley noted the grant was used last fall for an online 24/7 tutoring facility.
“Formerly, tutoring was primarily on site,” Stanley said.
Stanley points out that the continuing investments, grants and the faculty's increased skill set has enabled WCCC to quickly react to changes in industry and the workplace.
“We are in a unique position to answer any need in the community, whether it requires changing a curriculum or even adding a new curriculum,” Stanley said.
Paul Peirce is a reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or email@example.com.
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