Guest Column: Great things going on at SCCC

SHAUN MCKAY

Established in 1959, Suffolk County Community College is the largest college in the State University of New York (SUNY) system.  The college’s Eastern Campus opened in 1977.

Like most community colleges, the campus realized substantial growth in recent years. Enrollment has grown from 2,789 in 2008 to 3,516 for the fall semester of 2012 — an increase of 26 percent. I believe this growth is reflective of an enhanced appreciation for the value found at community colleges, as well as Suffolk’s exceptional programs and its highly dedicated faculty and staff. With approximately 90 percent of all new high-wage jobs requiring a college degree or post-secondary training, our continued success in preparing the area workforce for jobs that actually exist is vital to our economy.

On our Eastern Campus, we have been able to meet the demands of the East End’s demographics, while building a student-centered teaching and learning environment. This is a direct result of our commitment to meeting heightened student expectations and employer demands through a plan that has been methodically implemented by the campus and its administration.

Two years ago, the campus began an aggressive campaign of outreach to the community. It initiated a listening tour that visited area high schools in order to assess external impressions of the college.

This process garnered good, useful information that led to a customization of our annual open house format. Staff then researched best practices to orchestrate further change, speaking to their contemporaries across the country to help determine ideas that could be implemented here.

Benchmarking and measurement have helped the campus find efficiencies within its operation and, as the economy declined, they were able to do more with less. Today, the campus is in the midst of implementing a new student success center that will provide one location for students that will streamline access to staff, providing them with service that is accessible, professional and efficient.

Research shows that student engagement strengthens student success and that a student’s first-year experience is a critical factor in whether they remain enrolled and persist in their studies through graduation. The Eastern Campus makes an immediate effort to connect and engage with its students. Programs are in place to promote cultural and intellectual diversity initiatives and to foster both student- to-student and faculty-to-student mentoring relationships. This proactive, consistent manner of guiding students through the college has been highly successful.

It’s important to note that many members of the campus faculty and administration have received the prestigious SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence. These awards are given annually to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary dedication to their students and an exceptional commitment to excellence. Those selected for this honor are role models within the college and the state university. Having these award recipients as part of our faculty helps us demonstrate that our students are being taught by the very best.

In 2008, the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center opened on East Main Street in Riverhead. After only its first year of operation, the center met its fourth-year enrollment projections, underscoring the demand for related jobs in this region and the general popularity of the culinary field. The program continues to grow as a result of its high visibility and our aggressive recruitment plan.

We have also been engaged in a concerted effort to complete the facilities master plan for the campus. In 2011, the College opened the Montaukett Learning Resource Center, a 40,000-square-foot building that houses our library. American Libraries, in its 2012 Library Design Showcase, recognized our library in the category of Collaborative Learning, acknowledging our special effort to provide space for collaboration while still respecting other patrons’ desires for silence. We were the only community college among 11 institutions recognized nationally in this category.

Our next major addition will be the construction of the 48,000-square-foot Health and Wellness facility, expected to open in 2014.

Our institutional partnerships continue to expand and represent yet another of Suffolk’s strengths. We have a satellite building on our Eastern Campus that accommodates some of Long Island University’s bachelor’s and graduate degree programs. Many of our students find this proximity appealing, allowing them to stay on the East End while advancing their education. Our partnership with SUNY/Delhi enables our culinary students to stay on Long Island, in the college’s Culinary Center, while completing their four-year degree under the direction of Suffolk faculty members who have been cross-certified to represent SUNY/Delhi.

This program allows our students to “transfer” from Suffolk to Delhi and earn their baccalaureate degree without leaving home. Since 2011, the College has also been partnering with colleges and universities on Long Island to offer full- and partial-tuition scholarship awards to outstanding students who graduate from Suffolk. This initiative now includes 11 participating institutions, where 46 of our graduates are supported by Stay on Long Island Scholarships that total approximately $1 million.

Finally, we maintain Long Island’s lowest annual tuition of $3,990. The College is sensitive to limiting tuition increases in order to keep higher education affordable for Suffolk County residents and we are extremely happy that our students did not see an increase in tuition for the 2012-13 academic year. We are grateful to our elected officials for their leadership in support of the college.

My vision is for Suffolk, as a premier learning-centered institution committed to excellence, to be recognized for its dedication to academic success that fosters lifelong learning. To learn more about the college and its programs, visit our website at sunysuffolk.edu or attend our campus open house on Thursday, Dec. 6, from 4 to 7 p.m.

Dr. McKay is the president of Suffolk County Community College. He lives in Manorville.

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