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HCC reflects on National Community College Month: 'We are Howard County’s community college'

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Even though Matthew Arminio has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, he found himself back in school.

Arminio, 32, of Columbia, has been taking classes at Howard Community College for two years to eventually apply to colleges with physician assistant programs. He holds a bachelor’s in exercise science from West Chester University and a master’s in acupuncture from the Maryland University of Integrative Health in Laurel.

He said he has enjoyed his experience at Howard Community College so far because it’s more flexible and accessible for an “older student” to continue their education.

“I think high school students should work right out of high school, but if they have a vague idea of what they want to do, they should go to a community college, take a bunch of classes and also save money,” Arminio said.

Arminio is one of nearly 500,000 students — 150,000 in credit programs and 350,000 in continuing education and workforce development courses — enrolled in a Maryland community college annually, according to data from Howard Community College.

In honor of April being National Community College Month, HCC has shared 16 facts about Maryland community colleges, including that 70% of all freshmen and sophomore college students from Maryland are enrolled in one of the community colleges.

Kathleen B. Hetherington is the only HCC president to be a community college graduate. Hetherington, who has been HCC’s president since 2007, has spent her entire professional career in community colleges.

“I always share my experience with students,” Hetherington said. “Community colleges were relatively new at that time, and I started at the Community College at Philadelphia and it was the beginning of a career for me.”

After earning her associate degree while at community college. Hetherington went on to receive additional degrees at Penn State, Villanova and Widener universities.

“One of the things that I think also helps when I’m out in the community is relaying that you can start out a community college,” she said.

HCC at a glance

Sitting on 120 acres off Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, HCC opened its doors in 1970 as the state’s 14th community college after being founded in 1966. The college will celebrate its 50th anniversary in October 2020.

HCC’s mission statement is “Providing Pathways to Success” — a mission that has faculty and staff moving to streamline organization excellence, build partnerships and encourage student success, Hetherington said.

“We are Howard County’s community college … [the college is] working to meet the needs of the community,” she added.

Total enrollment for the fall semester was 28,985 students, according to the most recent college data. There were 14,291 students receiving credit and 15,407 students not receiving credit but taking classes. Of those students, 65 percent were attending part-time and 35 percent were full-time learners.

Sylvia Lee, an associate professor of English and co-chair of the English department, teaches a freshmen writing course, American literature and creative writing. She has been teaching at HCC since 2010.

“I would say definitely the community college is very distinct in its identity,” Lee said. “One of the things I have enjoyed here or at another community college is the community is diverse.”

The credit-seeking student body represents 111 different countries worldwide. Thirty-four percent of students are white, 30.5% are black and/or African American, 13.7% are Asian, 11.8% are Latino/Latina, 5.3% identify with two or more races, 4% are unknown and less than 1% are American Indian or Alaska Native.

The average age of credit-seeking students is 26; however, the college has students of all ages.

Something “unique to a community college is you get students from all walks of life,” Lee said.

She has students who are directly out of high school but also students who are parents, full-time workers and those who have “a lot of different life goals and they bring their experiences into the classroom and it enriches the [class] discussions.”

In the current academic year, HCC tuition is $4,919 for a full-time student who is enrolled in 30 credits.

Fifty-percent of fall 2018 students who are earning college credits have received some form of financial aid during their time at the college, according to HCC data.

“What I hear from a lot of students when they are getting ready to graduate is they are saving tens of tens thousands of dollars, [and] ‘I’m so glad I made the choice to come here,’ ” Hetherington said.

Students can earn an associate degree in a variety of majors, including arts, applied science, teaching, science and engineering. They can also earn a certificate of proficiency after one year of attending HCC or a letter of recognition after completing a set of courses to enhance skills.

Some of the most popular programs in which students are enrolled are STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — business, cybersecurity, nursing and allied health, which includes dental hygeine, radiologic technology and becoming a physical therapy assistant.

When students study nursing, they take the National Council Licensure Examination in order to become a registered nurse. They take the same exam after studying nursing for two years that four-year nursing students take, Hetherington said.

The most popular program at HCC is the general studies program, which is similar to a liberal arts program at a four-year college or university.

What HCC offers to students

Since being an HCC student, Arminio has published two original research papers in the college’s peer-reviewed journal as part of the undergraduate research program.

He has also been a mentor to younger students through the college’s peer leadership program. He has interacted with “fresh out of high school students” who may be struggling, but with HCC’s small class sizes and a personal professor-to-student relationship, the students succeed, Arminio said.

And coming full circle, he recently accepted a job with the college to be an adjunct faculty member beginning in the fall 2019 semester to teach an anatomy and physiology lab.

Opportunities at HCC include honors programs, study abroad, undergraduate research, apprenticeship programs, on-campus internships and more.

“We want to make sure we have the best opportunities for students to succeed,” Hetherington said.

The study abroad program includes traveling to Bermuda, Ireland, Italy, France and an in-country trip to Arizona and Nevada. A program to have students study in Ghana, Africa, is currently being developed.

“They are examining the culture and bring the experiences back to their [own] lives and to the classroom,” Hetherington said.

On campus there are the traditional educational buildings and classrooms, but that’s not all — HCC has its own greenhouse at the top of the Science, Engineering and Technology Building. The building also features an engineering build room and a rooftop telescope observation area. Next door is an in-house dental hygiene center to allow for students to practice their clinical skills on patient volunteers.

Besides on-campus opportunities, HCC wants students to flourish once leaving, so the college has agreements with local state universities that “make it easy for students to transfer their credits,” Hetherington said.

The universities include University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Towson University.

George Hanna, a current HCC student and a 2016 graduate of Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City, will attend the University of Baltimore to continue his studies of entrepreneurship and business.

Hanna was accepted a few weeks ago with half of his tuition to be paid for by the university. Hanna, 21, is planning to apply for the Entrepreneurship Fellows Program to have all of his tuition paid for and receive a living stipend.

Hanna said he has started at least five businesses, including a clothing brand, managing cryptocurrency investments, a pastry business with his mother and a construction business.

“HCC is definitely the place to be if you’re trying to get really anywhere because of the connections, the resources and the relationships,” Hanna said. “You can’t really put a price tag on it.”

Hanna eventually wants to get into real estate and help his parents retire in a few years.

He spoke at Mt. Hebron recently, talking about life in general but also relaying to students that “it’s OK to go to a two-year college.”

“At a four-year [college or university] you are looking at $25,000 to $40,000 a year, but if you go to HCC, you can literally pay for the whole thing with less than $10,000,” Hanna said.

“It’s a no-brainer to me.”

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