Though they’ve been used as fodder for jokes and sitcoms for decades, community colleges have been getting a new and improved reputation lately.
Class offerings are expanding, enrollment is up, and even federal legislation has been in favor of community colleges with President Barack Obama calling them a “vital component of our higher education system.”
According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 25 miles of one of these oft under-appreciated schools.
For residents in Hudson County, the distance to Hudson County Community College (HCCC) has always been much shorter, but it’s about to get even shorter for some.
On Sept. 13, officials from HCCC (which currently has campuses in Jersey City and West New York) were joined by a host of local politicians to preview the college’s new North Hudson Higher Education Center, which has been under construction in Union City since the spring of 2009 and is scheduled to be open in spring 2011, with classes at the new center beginning in fall 2011.
The $28.1 million structure is the largest construction effort ever undertaken by HCCC and is being billed as “a complete campus under one roof.”
Paula Pando, a native of Union City, will lead the center as vice president for the North Hudson Center and Student Affairs.
“It’s really a dream come true,” said Pando. “To be able to open a campus in my hometown is really tremendous for me.”
New, larger center in UC will replace current in WNY
The new North Hudson Center is located along Kennedy Boulevard and sits just steps away from the 49th Street Light Rail Station.
A glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge that will connect the building with the neighboring NJ Transit station is in the works to bring students directly from transportation to the classroom.
The plans also call for an outdoor courtyard and rooftop terrace, and “green” features such as a photovoltaic electric system, rainwater harvesting tanks, daylight and occupancy sensors, low-flow fixtures, and high-efficiency mechanical equipment.
According to the college’s officials, the center in Union City will replace the current center located in West New York, which is tucked away off 65th Street on Polk Avenue and currently serves approximately 1,500 students, while also expanding the amenities available to students and residents.
At seven stories and 92,250 square feet, the $28.1 million structure is the largest construction effort ever undertaken by HCCC and is being billed as “a complete campus under one roof.”
The typical administrative offices will be joined by labs, a media center, language and science labs and art studios, a library and bookstore, and a student lounge.
Students and residents will benefit
HCCC President Glen Gabert has stated that because HCCC is “the community’s college,” the new center will also have spaces for a variety of college and community events.
Hudson County’s Career Development Center is planned to have space in the new center, and other county offices and programs, such as the county clerk’s office, will operate out of the building certain days a week.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said he is looking forward to the amenities the new center will provide for his town’s students and residents alike.
“It’s going to be a great benefit because of the proximity of it,” said Turner. “It’s a large institution, full campus, and will be much more convenient [than the center in West New York].”
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer agreed, adding that it will provide an excellent opportunity for Hoboken residents because of the proximity to the light rail.
Increasing enrollment, further plans
At Monday’s campus preview, several local officials concurred with President Obama’s belief that community colleges will play a vital role in retooling careers and getting the economy on a new track with courses geared toward the future.
“It’s not the building that we celebrate,” said U.S. Senator and former Union City Mayor Robert Menendez. “It’s the experiences and the lives that will be transformed.”
Nationwide, community colleges saw a 16.9 percent increase in enrollment between 2007 and 2009, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
But HCCC enrollment has skyrocketed recently, with a 143 percent increase over the past 16 years and a 22 percent increase between 2009 and 2010 alone – the largest increase of any county college in New Jersey.
In anticipation of this growth, HCCC has been implementing a $147.7 million physical development plan, which has included the Culinary Arts Institute/Conference Center on Newkirk Street in Jersey City, 70 Sip Avenue enrollment and administration offices, new classrooms adjacent to the Journal Square PATH Station, and a newly renovated classroom building on Enos Street.
Future plans include a welcome center with computer stations at the Journal Square PATH Station, the development of the entire block on Sip Avenue to include classrooms and a library, and a classroom center in the southern part of the county.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.