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JCC President Carole A. McCoy in front of the college’s first dormitory that is slated to open at the Coffeen Street campus in time for the 2014-15 academic year. Amanda Morrison/ NNY Business

JCC President Carole A. McCoy in front of the college’s first dormitory that is slated to open at the Coffeen Street campus in time for the 2014-15 academic year. Amanda Morrison/ NNY Business

JCC sees record enrollment, constructing ‘campus vibrancy’

Growth in many communities is often spurred by and tied to academic institutions. While Jefferson County isn’t home to as many colleges as St. Lawrence County, Jefferson Community College has been growing for the past seven years, like many community colleges in the state have because of the economic downturn, President Carole A. McCoy said. Enrollment this year hit a record 4,000 for fall classes as of early September, a 1.74 percent increase over last year, with a record 401 military veterans also enrolled.

In the past five years, the college has focused on expanding its partnerships with a handful of four-year institutions to offer students more options for continuing their studies locally. And, with a new residence hall on pace to open next year, JCC seems to be in a growth mode beyond just enrollment increases tied to the economy.

Mrs. McCoy said she expects the new residence hall, a $17 million, 298-bed project, to create “campus vibrancy.” Based on experiences of other colleges that have built residence halls, Mrs. McCoy anticipates students who live on campus will be more interested in activities and athletic events, as well as be more focused and so perform better academically and have a greater chance of completing a degree.

Mrs. McCoy also estimates that 30 to 40 percent of students who will live on campus would not have come to JCC otherwise — students who were seeking a residential college experience or didn’t want to live at home. These students will be “brand new and wouldn’t have considered JCC before,” she said.

Construction of the 98,000-square-foot building began this summer and is slated to open to students in time for the fall 2014 semester. Model units, as part of the college’s marketing campaign, are expected to be open early next spring for prospective students to tour.

JCC has eight partnerships with four-year schools through its Higher Education Center that enable students to complete a degree locally without having to travel to four-year schools in Oswego, Potsdam or Rochester, for example. The partner schools — Bryant & Stratton College, the College at Brockport, Keuka College, Nazareth College, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Empire State College, SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Upstate Medical University — offer six program-specific bachelor’s degrees, seven program-specific master’s degrees, an advanced graduate certificate in special education and various individualized bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

“We set it up so that there are specific programs to meet very local needs in Jefferson County and so that no campus is in a position of trying to offer the same thing that something close is,” she said. “We’d love to have as many bachelor’s degrees here as possible — I’d love to have a doctorate — but we try to be targeted.”

JCC offered a doctorate program through St. John Fisher, Rochester, in 2012, that failed to garner enough student interest.

Part of the center’s focus is also stopping outmigration of the labor force — “if someone gets their education in Jefferson County, they’ll stay in Jefferson County, that means they’ll pay taxes in Jefferson County,” she said.

More students not only mean a greater economic impact on the community in terms of buying gas and eating in local restaurants, but what Mrs. McCoy called the social cost side — educated members of a community are less likely to be on welfare, smoke or be incarcerated, for example.

“There are lots of things you can demonstrate than an education does for a community,” she said.

JCC also offers six degrees that can be completed entirely online, an area that has also seen increased demand, she said. The college has seen increased demand for health information technology courses, an area in which it has partnered with the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization; the college hopes to soon offer such courses as part of a degree program.

This fall also marks the first full year for new courses in chemical dependency, creative writing, fire protection technology and winery management, all of which had what Mrs. McCoy considers “tremendous success” in enrollment, including 49 students in chemical dependency studies.

The school also works with an advisory board comprised of local employers, the Workplace, JCIDA and others to help devise non-credit courses that target local needs in areas such as phlebotomy. While non-credit bearing, Mrs. McCoy called such courses “an important piece of what JCC does for the community.”

Though 38 percent of JCC’s student body has a tie to Fort Drum, the vast majority of that number is spouses or children of soldiers, so Mrs. McCoy said the college is not overly anxious about the impact of federal budget sequestration on potential cuts to tuition assistance for active-duty military students.

“We are so very rich, there are so many different things going on at one different time here,” Ms. McCoy said. “That’s part of our strength, part of why I think we can be resilient when there are changes in the economy — the fort’s size or anything — because we are just many, many different things.”

JCC’s Center for Community Studies, which conducts community-based research, does a “tremendous service for the community,” she added. The center gives students an opportunity for hands-on applications of statistical learning, while also providing useful data for businesses, tourism and economic development.

With such growth and success — JCC also posted the highest six-year graduation rate among the state’s 35 community colleges, according to the 2013 Completion Day report, released this spring by The Center for an Urban Future — one significant project now in discussion is a 7,000-seat multi-purpose facility. A $40,000 feasibility study was completed in February for the $44.5 million project, which would include a $12.3 million higher education center, a $7 million field house and a $25 million events center, to be built on the site of the former Whispering Pines.

“We’re continuing to press along as to how we as a community might be able to make this project happen,” she said, adding that the additional space for classroom instruction, athletics and community events would be “extraordinary.” She envisions it as “college space that gets a good workout by the college all the time, and then is opened up to the community.”

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