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Learning is in store at the mall

AT FIRST glance, Anne Arundel Community College and Arundel Mills, the mammoth mall, are an odd couple.

But there they stand, side by side just south of Route 100: the shopping center's bustling theater multiplex and the college's new $10.6 million classroom building, designed to serve the fast-growing western part of the county.

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It's a most unusual partnership in two respects. First, though many colleges offer courses and rent office space in malls, none has gone so far as to establish a 78,000-square-foot branch campus on 6 acres at a shopping center.

Second, no county or state money was involved in the construction. In an ingenious scheme involving four partners, Anne Arundel County issued bonds to finance the building. Its developer was the college's foundation, a legally separate entity from the college, which by law cannot assume debt. Students will pay off the bonds through their tuition. The mall is the landlord.

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Matt McManness, the college's vice president for finance, acknowledged that "you're taking a risk when you use tuition and fees for debt payment." In other words, what if they built it and nobody came? But Martha Smith, the AACC president, said "demand analyses" conducted for nervous New York bond houses indicated steady growth of the new campus over several years, to a maximum yearly enrollment as high as 10,000.

"We've been thinking about this for many years," Smith said. "It took us only two years to build it. That's five years less than the typical college capital project. It's unbelievable."

The building, which officially opened Tuesday, has 22 classrooms, eight computer labs and a 134-seat lecture hall. It will offer an array of credit and noncredit courses as well as the services modern college students expect. Students will be able to take everything from paralegal studies to teacher education. And a quartet of four-year schools -- McDaniel, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland, University College -- will offer courses on the site, too.

You might say that Arundel Mills is the first new public college in Maryland in the 21st century, but Smith insists: "There's only one Anne Arundel Community College, and it's everywhere in the community. We offer courses at 100 locations. This is just another one."

Three-year-old Arundel Mills got to know AACC when it engaged the college to train retail workers for its stores. Now it's the college's landlord, but a friendly one, according to McManness. The only problem may be -- what else? -- parking. McManness says the school is scheduling classes so as not to interfere with the mall's peak hours.

There's something terribly appropriate about the cohabitation of a community college and a mall. In the 19th century, notes Andy Mollison, education writer for Cox Newspapers, colleges sprang up in the countryside. Later, they were built in cities. Now they're in the suburbs, where the people are, and close to acres of parking. (One such school, Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland, Wash., has its own mall, including a car repair shop and a florist. Note the synergy.)

Another advantage: When their class in Microcomputer Operating Systems is over, AACC students at Arundel Mills can walk next door and take in a movie.

CollegeBound scholars pack room for luncheon

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CollegeBound turned out another class of scholars at its 15th annual luncheon Thursday. Only a few years ago, you could have put the affair in a small room. This year's gathering of returning scholars and 2003 scholarship winners -- they all graduated from city high schools and are bound for college in the fall -- packed a ballroom at a downtown hotel.

Those who take a college education lightly should have been there. Many of these kids couldn't possibly afford college -- particularly in light of tuition increases of 20 percent and more in the University System of Maryland -- without the "last-dollar grants" from CollegeBound and other public and private aid.

Corrine Robinson, for example, "just kept trying" until she had accumulated the money needed to send her daughter Stacy Woods, a Western High graduate, to the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

"We've always lived on what we had and not much else," said Robinson, 49, who will graduate with her own degree this month from the College of Notre Dame. As for Stacy, 17: "I want to be a judge."


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