Opening Doors

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2007

Manatee Community College, founded in 1957 as Manatee Junior College, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. MCC president Dr. Sarah Pappas, who is marking her own milestone of 10 years in leading the institution to record expansion of students and services, talks about the school's impact on the region:

What is MCC's greatest contribution to the community? The number of students we've served-over 30,000 graduates, most of whom stay in this area and contribute to the quality of life-and the quality of the product and the impact we have on businesses and industries. Our registered nursing degree, for example, is by far our most exemplary program. Those students are so much in demand that hospitals hire them before they walk across the graduation stage.

Half of all Manatee and Sarasota high school graduates who attend college choose MCC. What attracts them? Quality. We have accountability measures that the state uses to track all community colleges. Of those 16 measures, no other community college does as well as we do. The job placement rates for our career program last year were the highest in Florida. Ninety-five percent to 98 percent of our graduates find a job in the career they prepared for or a related field. They're being hired.

Our tuition is a third less than the [public] universities. People can save tons of money by coming to us for the first two years. And the state tracks the GPAs that students earn when they leave here and go to FSU or UF or USF. Our students get the same or better GPAs [at those schools] as the ones who started there as freshmen.

How does MCC help students prepare for academic achievement at the university level? Our class size is small compared to today's university setting. We offer the same English 101 in our University Parallel curriculum as at every one of the 11 state universities. At MCC, a math class will have 20 to 21 people. At a huge university, there literally might be 500.

Explain MCC's open door policy. High school graduates can apply and be accepted to MCC. Then we give them a college placement test. Even for people recently out of high school, 60 percent are not ready for college math, 40 percent aren't ready for college writing courses, and 20 percent can't read for college. So instead of turning them out in the streets, we say yes, you can stay here but you can't take your history and sociology until you take what's called college preparatory classes. Even though we take everyone in, if you graduate from MCC, you can compete completely with the university students.

How have workforce needs changed, and how is MCC responding? Fifty years ago only 15 percent of jobs required much more than a high school education. Now it's 65 percent to 70 percent. MCC received a grant from the federal government to infuse 21st century work skills into almost every course, even English literature and history¬-skills like problem solving; the ability to work in groups and teams and with people of different races, ages, generations and so on; creativity; applying technology; and of course, high-level reading, writing and math skills.

How do MCC's community partnerships impact the local economy? When I came here we didn't have a dental hygiene program. Local dentists were very eager to hire more dental hygienists-and that's a high-paying job around here. Their state lobbying group joined me in Tallahassee to ask the legislature for the money for a building, and they raised money among themselves to help us purchase the equipment. It's not a huge program, but we produce 14 to 20 graduates per year and they're meeting a huge need.

How does MCC monitor changing workforce needs? For each of our programs-for example, paralegals, dental hygiene or electronics-we have an advisory committee of practitioners, CEOs or HR representatives from the community in that particular business. Business and industry help develop a curriculum that guides an educational institution on each course's overall goals.

What is something businesspeople may not know about MCC? Through our Corporate and Community Development division, MCC offers short- term and long-term continuing education for business, industry and government workers. It can be custom-made or we have a catalogue of titles people can use. We have created a series of online courses with over 3,000 course titles [through the ACT Center] in almost every aspect of business or manufacturing.

How does MCC prepare students for life outside the workplace? If you only take accounting courses, how are you going to be able to make intelligent decisions such as who to vote for? The University Parallel curriculum demands that over half the courses must be what we call general education. They all need writing skills, literature, history, political science, a foreign language. They have to take one course on global issues. Even the career students, the nursing R.N.s and so on, have to take 15 to 20 hours of what's called general education.

What are the biggest challenges ahead? Making sure the legislature knows how important community colleges are. We're a growing institution and 65 percent of our funding comes from the state legislature. Without increased funds every year we can't possibly meet the needs of the citizens who want to take our courses, the expense of technology, and just keeping up with the growth rate here. For example, I'm trying to get more land out of Lakewood Ranch for our Center for Innovation and Technology. Right now we're on five acres of land. I'm asking for another five.

After 10 years as president of MCC, what are you most proud of? We received our 10-year accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2005. This is like an audit of every aspect of the college-from academic quality and integrity to its financial health, facilities operations and delivery of student services. We received glowing results with no recommended improvements. Of course, we want to improve anyway.

What's next for you professionally? I'll probably be leaving higher ed in the next couple of years. But I'm not ready to go retire and play golf; I want to stay engaged in the community. 

MCC Report Card

Student Diversity

Female, 63.3%

Male, 36.7%

Caucasian, 76.9%

African-American, 10.3%

Hispanic, 6.9%

American Indian and Asian, 2.5%

Non-U.S. resident, 1.9%

Full-time/Part-time Status

Full-time, 43%

Part-time, 57%

Age of Full-time Students

21 and under, 68%

22 to 29, 20.1%

30 to 39, 7.4%

40 to 49, 3.4%

50 and older, 1.2%

SOURCE: Manatee Community College 2006 Annual Report. 

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