Celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2012, Northampton Community College is the larger of two publicly supported community colleges in the Lehigh Valley. It boasts an $80 million budget, more than 2,600 faculty and staff and some 46,000 credit and noncredit students at its campuses in Bethlehem Township, south Bethlehem and Tannersville.
Yet, those who work for the institution describe the intimacy of their "worth place" — a place they gladly visit after hours or on weekends, a place they feel appreciated, encouraged and challenged.
"I joke that when I started here, the president makes you drink a special Kool-Aid to acclimate you to the Northampton Way," said Jeanine Metzler, an assistant professor of accounting the past five years.
The Northampton Way, she said, is a culture in which employees and faculty help each other and the college excel. It's a culture that understands family needs, a culture unlike those she experienced at three previous learning institutions in the Valley.
When her father died unexpectedly in June, Metzler said more friends from NCC attended his funeral than did family. When her adopted daughter is sick, staying home is not an issue.
"People here really care about me as an individual," she said. "I never worked with a group of people who wanted me to succeed more than they want to themselves."
For those reasons and others, NCC was ranked the Top Workplace among large employers surveyed by WorkplaceDynamics in the Lehigh Valley.
New college President Mark Erickson said the "ego-free" culture at NCC is one reason he took the helm. Another is the college's commitment to its community, including students, employers and contributors. Erickson previously worked for more than 20 years at Lehigh University and since 2005 had been president of Wittenberg University in Ohio.
"This place has an incredible personal feel," Erickson said. "It's not just a place to come in a car, take classes and leave … students are everywhere, so engaged." And when they learned of an employee who had taken ill and needed to be hospitalized, he said, the campus rallied to her aid, raising money to help her.
"We are a college of the community. That's the mindset," Erickson said. "What are the community's needs and how do we shift to serve those needs."
NCC is well-positioned to respond with more than 100 associate degree, certificate and diploma programs and more private scholarship money disbursed than any other community college in Pennsylvania.
Tuition costs about $3,600 a year, compared with $30,000 to $40,000 a year or more at the Valley's private colleges. At Lehigh Carbon Community College, the other community college in the Valley, prices are similar to those at NCC but the enrollment is smaller: According to the state Department of Education, Northampton's fall 2010 enrollment was 11,328. LCCC's enrollment in fall 2010 was 8,101.
Attending NCC for two years before transferring to another college or university to complete a four-year degree can save families thousands of dollars.
To be able to offer affordable rates, NCC must supplement its income with government grants and donations. Tuition and fees cover 55 percent of operating costs, state appropriations 26 percent, contributions from school districts 10 percent, and gifts, grants and investments the final 9 percent. One of every four high school graduates in Northampton County attends NCC.
From its start in 1967, college leaders established a successful fundraising foundation that now allows for $500,000 to $1 million in scholarship money each year, as well as capital projects such as the expansion of NCC's campus in Monroe County. That 72-acre campus, which started 25 years ago in a renovated blouse factory, is slated to be completed in 2014.
NCC is the only community college out of 14 in Pennsylvania with residence halls, a campus restaurant (Hampton Winds) to train its culinary students and a special program developed to train dealers to work at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem and other casinos. Students come from 24 states and 53 countries, according to Erickson.
Diana Holva heard what a great place NCC was to work from her mother, who started as a secretary when the college consisted of one building on Green Pond Road in Bethlehem Township. Holva took a part-time job in the records office in hopes of grabbing a full-time position in financial aid when it became available and did just that. In October she celebrated 29 years with the college.
"It's nice that they give people within first chance at new positions if they qualify," Holva said.
As the veterans affairs assistant, Holva helps nearly 300 veterans, National Guardsmen, reservists and dependents each semester obtain the certifications they need for financial assistance with college classes.
NCC paid her tuition for a general associate degree in 2006, so helping others get their degrees, especially veterans, has become her passion. And when she and a colleague came up with the idea of holding a special orientation for veterans, the administration approved it.