The Community College of Baltimore County

Special to SunSpot

Those with good memories may remember a system of junior colleges that started in the 1950s and prepared students for four-year colleges and universities. The Independent System of Junior Colleges eventually became Catonsville Community College, Dundalk Community College and Essex Community College. In 1998, the trio became the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) when state legislators united them under one administration and one name.

CCBC is an adult education system that continually reinvents itself to meet students' learning needs. Approximately 72,000 students are enrolled in CCBC's accredited undergraduate and non-credit continuing education programs.

Students today may select from more than 100 majors and certificates of study, plus hundreds of self-enrichment courses. A 12 percent rise in enrollment since the reorganization indicates an upward learning curve in the county.

More than 225 local companies depend on CCBC to develop and teach customized course work to their employees. The college also attracts high school juniors and seniors to its Parallel Enrollment program, which encourages select high school students ages 15 to 17 to complete up to one full semester of college at a 50 percent tuition discount.

Diverse academic programs, nationally ranked sports teams, theater programs and collegiate clubs attract multi-talented scholars, future teachers, business owners, scientists, nurses, morticians and thespians to CCBC. Class size rarely exceeds 25 students.

These and other reasons are why CCBC was selected as one of the nation's 12 Vanguard Learning Colleges in 2000. CCBC was chosen to work on a multi-year project sponsored by the League for Innovation in the Community College, a program designed to help participants improve teaching techniques. The colleges then serve as models for innovative learning programs.

CCBC increasingly works with The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the University of Baltimore and other schools to offer credits that transfer into their programs. Cooperative learning relationships also include St. Joseph Medical Center and the Baltimore County Police Department, among others.

Even as each campus works to develop a multi-disciplined environment suited to teach contemporary sciences, electronic communications, business technologies and pop culture, it continues its emphasis on core subjects such as reading, writing and mathematics. It is a college that reaches out to all students and helps them continue learning by providing on-campus daycare centers.

One distinctive program on the Catonsville campus, Mortuary Science, was designated by The Maryland State Board of Higher Education as a statewide program, which makes some students eligible for a tuition subsidy. Since the first mortuary class graduated in 1975, it remains the only degree-granting program of its kind in the state. Students continually exceed national average test results in national board examinations. Before students sit for the state exam, they must work 1,000 hours as an apprentice, which includes assisting at 20 funerals and 20 embalmings.

Elsewhere on campus, in a partnership with Frostburg State University, Catonsville offers the nation's first collaborative program in Recreation and Parks Management. Students earn their associate's degree and bachelor's degree without leaving the Catonsville campus. Graduates work in leadership positions as outdoor specialists, park rangers, activity or recreation therapists and conservation aides at public, commercial, government and private sites.

CCBC's Essex campus is approximately a 30-minute eastbound drive on the Beltway from Catonsville. Each May, the campus welcomes the annual reopening of summer theater. In 2002, more than 100 area actors celebrated the company's 30th anniversary with productions of "Mame," "1776," "Tom Sawyer" and "Henry V."

During the fall and spring semesters, student actors stage two shows for the public. Essex designed its associate of arts degree in theater to assure smooth credit transfer to upper level theater schools.

College alliances also helped design the physician assistant collaborative master's degree and certificate program organized between Essex and Towson University's graduate school. The curriculum is designed for students who previously earned a bachelor's degree and have a strong academic science and clinical background. Full-time continuous enrollment is required throughout the 26-month program.

Essex also is home to the award-winning Internet and Multimedia Technology Certification Program and associate degree. Its graduates work as Internet programmers and multimedia designers. Students must choose one of three options: Internet technology, multimedia technology or instructional multimedia.

Continuing eastward around the Beltway, CCBC Dundalk offers an incredibly popular horticulture program. Eleven student-designed and -installed instructional gardens located throughout the campus serve as living classrooms.

Also known for its chemical dependency counseling program, Dundalk prepares students for careers as counselors in residential and outpatient programs, detoxification units and halfway houses.

Keeping up with the times, Dundalk replaced its existing wet-processing photography program with digital coursework that was developed and continues to be offered at its sister campus in Catonsville. Both campuses offer a photography and imaging certificate. At Dundalk, that means 20 Power Mac G4 stations.

Certificate and degree programs in industrial electricity/electronics technology at Dundalk train students to install, maintain and repair industrial electrical and electronics equipment, including telecommunications and fiber optics devices. The college works with approximately 930 different manufacturers, companies and unions to fill the demand for qualified employees. Clients include Northrop Grumman Corp., the Communications Workers of America and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Approximately 46,000 non-credit students, nearly double the number who take accredited classes, registered at CCBC in 2001. At an average age of 46 years, some came to build Web sites, others to build houses. Many wanted to learn CPR, how to drive a school bus or communicate in sign language. Computer security, one of the hottest topics in business today, is offered as a non-credit course, as is retirement planning and stress management. The college works with more than 225 companies to provide non-credit customized training programs.

CCBC faculty members keep up with the latest in electronic instruction strategies through a program called Virtual Academy. This benefits long distance and on-campus learners. At CCBC Catonsville, for instance, a flight simulator is used in aviation courses to help train future pilots, flight operations managers, FAA inspectors and air traffic controllers.

CCBC students and graduates can be found in some surprising, high-profile places. Marguerite Shannon, an Essex graduate, stars as Mrs. Potts, the teapot, in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway. David Drake, also an Essex graduate, had a supporting role in "Philadelphia." Drake wrote and performed in the off-Broadway one-person show, "The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me," which was made into a movie in 2000.

What brings many of CCBC's students together is a social calendar as diverse as the tri-campus' population. Each campus maintains a distinct, yet open, personality that invites students from CCBC's other campuses to attend dances, poetry readings, sports events and concerts. Yet, a level of intimacy is also maintained on each campus. In student centers, friends study in small groups, play pool, watch TV or nap on over-stuffed sofas. It's this melding of traditional and non-traditional students of different age groups and of individual interests that puts the community in CCBC.

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