There is no typical community college student these days. And St. Charles Community College [SCC] isn’t your typical community college. That’s becoming truer than ever as both students and school – along with the needs of the community – adjust to changing times.
There already is a long list of positives that college and school district officials as well as local businessmen extol about the community college here, located on a 228-acre, 12-building campus in Cottleville. And that list is getting longer, even though the institution, in the grand scheme of things, is quite young.
SCC was established in 1986 as a public, comprehensive two-year community college with associate degrees and certificate programs in the arts, businesses, sciences and career-technical fields. Today, SCC also provides workforce and community-based training.
It held its first classes in 1987 with about 400 students in attendance that summer. The number of students has fluctuated in recent years and is down a bit compared to the recession a decade ago. Periods of high employment tend to drop enrollment, college and local officials say.
SCC has about 7,000 students now, nearly equally divided between full-time and part-time students. Their average age is about 23.
One out of every five St. Charles County high school graduates attends SCC. Its tuition, at $103 per credit hour for in-district students, ranks in the middle of 12 community colleges in Missouri and did not raise this year. SCC’s operating levy is 22.40 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Besides being affordable, people also like the school.
“No matter who I talk to, whether they are a community member or a foundation board member or a former student, I always hear nothing but how much they love this college,” said SCC President Barbara R. Kavalier, Ph.D.
Kavalier is the college district’s fourth president, hired 1.5 years ago.
“The kind of things they speak to is how beautiful this campus is. We are fortunate that we have one of the most attractive campuses in the state, an excellent faculty, all the partnerships we have like the police academy that is housed here at St. Charles Community College, or [that it is a] place where a community group can lease space for a community event,” Kavalier said. “So I think I would say the community sees us first and foremost as a very valuable resource to the community whether that is partnering with us for an event or using our space or for their children to come here and get their two-year degree.”
Kavalier said the majority of students still have traditional hopes, receiving their associate degree or completing their general education core requirements and then transferring to a university or college. Traditional students from age 18-21 make up 61.5 percent of SCC’s student body. But things are changing.
“That’s because our mission is an open-door mission,” Kavalier said. “We offer programs, services and activities for all ages and populations – anything that serves the needs of our community.”
Kavalier said the college district certainly has seen growth in its nontraditional population.
“There has been some variance in that over the past 10 to 15 years but, for the most part, the largest amount of students – the area where we’ve seen the most growth, particularly in the last three to five years, has certainly been the more nontraditional students pursuing more short-term and workforce technical training,” she said.
Nontraditional students make up 35.5 percent of SCC students. “It’s larger than some people realize,” Kavalier said.
Among business and community leaders, however, workforce development has been upfront because of a need for skilled employees, which has evolved in the last decade – workers that are hard to find.
“When I came on board, as I met with community leaders, business leaders, even some our representatives, I heard the same message over and over again – St. Charles Community College needs to expand its workforce and technical programs,” Kavalier said. “What we’re hearing from business and industry is that there is a significant shortage in so-called middle-skill jobs – those jobs that require some college but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.”
Workforce training and noncredit training is a priority for SCC, Kavalier said. “We just want to take it to another level.”
The college now provides noncredit class offerings to 20,000 or more students a year. Plans are for more classes and programs soon.
One of those changes, happening in recent years, is the college’s expansion of its nursing and allied health programs. A splashy move in this area was the college’s acquisition of the former Barat Academy in Dardenne Prairie in December 2016. The 69,000-square-foot building and 28-acre site at 1 Academy Place, located north of Interstate 64, was purchased from Lindenwood University.
Lindenwood bought the former high school in 2012 and the university and SCC announced a partnership that brought both school’s nursing programs under one roof at that time. But Lindenwood moved its nursing program back to its St. Charles campus in 2015.
SCC’s acquisition will serve as the district’s first satellite location and allow an expansion of its nursing and allied health offerings along with more workforce and industry programs. New and expanded programs will include associate degrees in nursing, medical assisting and occupational therapy assistant, to name a few.
“I think purchasing the new building, wow, what a wonderful opportunity that was to communicate to our community that we do things other than the traditional,” Kavalier said.
The building also has offered an opportunity for people to showcase their affection for the college.
“A doctor in St. Louis who knew our reputation found out about the building and donated more than $300,000 in furniture and equipment,” Kavalier said. “Her donation outfitted our medical assistant facility. We didn’t have to spend anything, how wonderful is that? That tells you that people see this as a good thing, it’s needed [and] they want to support it. In a year and a half, we went from nothing to enrolling students.”
Students also can take courses online including those that are requirements for associate degrees in business administration, banking and finance, and marketing.
Workers can acquire new skills in what is known as a “stackable credential.” Someone who doesn’t want a degree can take a six-month course and get a short-term certificate that might add to their expertise and result in a pay raise.
But the big news will be the development in coming years of a new agricultural program.
Kavalier said the college is wedding its nursing and allied health program with its fledgling agricultural program to work toward developing a community health program. So far, community businesses have been supportive, saying the program is needed, Kavalier said. A local need also can mean new, local jobs.
SCC has a Supply Chain Logistics and Manufacturing Technologies A.A.S. degree, started in 2017, that is designed to help workers learn the modern manufacturing environment used by companies such as Amazon, now building a new 80,000-square-foot fulfillment facility in St. Peters that will create about 1,500 new jobs.
Finding and funding the future
Along with growth comes the need to meet the financial pressures of an evolving institution.
The SCC College Taxing District includes all five public school districts in the county. Its extended service area also includes Callaway, Lincoln, Montgomery and Pike counties. Most of those counties are growing, particularly St. Charles County.
“We’ve been very well managed, we’ve been good stewards of our funds and we have a healthy reserve,” Kavalier said. SCC, with about a $40 million annual budget, was able to weather a possible cut in state funding dangled by state officials earlier this year.
There is no conversation now about seeking a local tax increase but Kavalier said there has been some talk of the college’s separate 501(c)(3) foundation launching a capital campaign in two to four years and setting a goal to raise funds for new classrooms and laboratories.
“I think we will see a successful capital campaign that will lead to some new buildings or remodeling old space,” she said. “I think you’re going to see more programs in the workforce technical side, more allied health programs, more connections and outreach with our community.”
There may be another campus in the future to serve students in more rural areas because students have to drive so far to get to SCC’s campus in Cottleville, Kavalier said. The college district also may be a place where international students more easily can transfer to four-year schools. In April, SCC and the University of Missouri-St. Louis signed an agreement to that effect.
Still, despite all the positives, Kavalier said, “I think students who are not interested in an education are simply not going anywhere. And I think our job at the college is to reach out to those students, who are only interested in developing a skill and going to work, which is great and a wonderful thing, but I’m not so sure they are aware of all we have to offer and that they can come here for just six months and learn to weld or whatever.
“I think that’s the opportunity we have to reach out to those students, who wouldn’t come here anyway, and working in collaboration with business and industry try to help them identify their strengths.”