As a first-generation college student, it is Olajumoke Ayoola’s personal mission to earn a degree.
She began her degree in her home country of Nigeria and continued after moving to the United States, where she found the Laurel College Center at 312 Marshall Ave.
The Laurel College Center opened its doors in August 2001, with Howard and Prince George’s community colleges as the founding partners, allowing students the flexibility to enroll at either college and attend classes in Laurel. The center offers associate, bachelor's and master’s degrees, general education development diplomas, English as a Second Language programs and noncredit or continuing education courses.
Since 2017, Ayoola, 33, has been enrolled with Prince George’s Community College and is pursuing a degree in business management.
“This is a really cool place to start your educational career,” Ayoola said. “The staff goes over and beyond to ensure student success.”
Ayoola, was even encouraged by Laurel College Center staff to begin her own company. She took the plunge and opened 1310 Beauty, where she does bridal and beauty makeup.
“Staff are interested in seeing you be successful and that means the world to me,” she said.
Nancy Grinberg, the program director of the Laurel College Center, has been with the center since day one.
“I love it here because I really feel we are fulfilling a need,” Grinberg said. “Success is different for each student and whatever our students’ needs are, we try and meet it.
“We actually have students who come here and say ‘If it wasn’t for Laurel College Center, we wouldn’t even think of going to college,’ ” she added.
Grinberg said a lot of students have transportation issues, so getting to one of the main campuses “would be a hardship.”
“A great reason for this partnership was our location, the most southern part of Howard County, the most northern part of Prince George’s County,” she said.
The central location, in the heart of the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., corridor, makes things easier, Grinberg added.
“Laurel is right on the border and touches so many communities,” said Elizabeth Homan, a spokeswoman for Howard Community College. “We value the center as it offers a second location for students...to reach their educational goals.”
One purpose of the partnership between the two community colleges was to bring continuing education and higher education to the Laurel Region and its community, Grinberg said.
“We are looking at programs and courses that will prepare our students to have an impact on the regional community,” said Courtney L. Davis, the assistant director of public relations at Prince George’s Community College. “We want them [students] to serve the greater community and be part of the greater community.”
In 2004, the Maryland Higher Education Commission designated Laurel College Center as a Regional Higher Education Center, allowing it to partner with four year universities and expand upon course offerings.
The four-year institutions include University of Maryland, College Park, Morgan State University, University of Maryland School of Nursing and University of Maryland University College. Bowie State University will begin offering a business administration degree in the fall and Morgan State will add a engineering track.
Students can earn an associate degree in business administration, general studies and criminal justice; a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, criminology, information systems management, registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in nursing and psychology and a master’s degree in elementary education.
The college center has a 2+2 program where students can enroll in community college for the first two years of their college education and then transfer into a bachelor’s program with one of the partnered four colleges.
Melissa Ndialehloh, 23, is a pharmacy student enrolled in Howard Community College.
Originally from Cameroon, Ndialehloh now lives in Laurel and started taking classes at the center in 2017.
She liked the smaller classroom settings and the one-on-one experience with her professors at the Laurel Center.
Ndialehloh enjoys helping people and said “pharmacy is a good way to help people especially with their medications.”
Each semester, there are nearly 1,500 community college students, 500 four-year college students and about 500 continuing education students enrolled, Grinberg said.
“It’s definitely grown over the years. We have been adding more partners and more programs as we continue to respond to the needs for the community and our student needs, that is first and foremost,” Grinberg said.
In the last 20 years, the center has expanded from three to five floors offering 28 standard classrooms, 10 instructional computer labs, a computer lab, a biology lab, two student lounges and a virtual library. A microbiology lab was added in 2010.
Student life programs, academic advising from the two community colleges and tutoring are also available.
Grinberg said her door is always open. Students and staff regularly stop to have a quick chat and for candy. A variety of chocolate and mints sit on her desk.
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“They will start a conversation and slowly move over towards the candy,” Grinberg said, laughing.