Just Adopted: Community Colleges Across the State

January 10, 2007

You’ve heard of adopting a highway, but advisors and professors at Mary Baldwin’s regional centers for adult and graduate studies are learning about a different kind of community care program — by adopting Virginia community colleges.

Visualize the program as a wheel with spokes branching out from the center in Staunton. Thirty years ago — that’s right, Baldwin Online and Adult Programs commemorates three decades of service this spring — the adult learning program at Mary Baldwin started with a core office on the main campus. Soon after, the program added regional centers — or spokes, of which there are now five, with the newest in South Boston — to better serve populations around the state. About a year ago, tertiary centers — new spokes — were established to reach more rural areas of the state where community colleges are the primary institutions for higher education. The most efficient use of time and personnel created what staff informally call the “adopt a community college” strategy. A few of these “satellite of a satellite” centers actually have offices and equipment, and others just have a smiling, and knowledgeable, face a few times a month.

An articulation agreement signed in October that guarantees admission and full transfer of credit between Mary Baldwin University and all Virginia community colleges reinforced the initiative to adopt outlying schools around the state, said Nancy Krippel, dean of adult and graduate programs. “The way we envision building the program is not by opening more official regional centers, but by expanding our service area with the dedicated people who work at existing centers,” Krippel said.

Rappahannock Community College, about an hour and a half from the Mary Baldwin regional office in Richmond, houses one of the program’s more established adopted centers. Karen Dorgan, associate professor of education, visits Rappahannock several times a month to meet with students in an office that the college has set aside specifically for Mary Baldwin. This fall, Anne Vokes became the first Rappahannock-area student to complete a program using the center; she earned her pre-kindergarten and elementary teacher licensure through the Post Baccalaureate Teacher Licensure Program. Another Rappahannock student, Nancy Jackson, is on her way to becoming the first to earn her bachelor’s degree through the center.

“Location does matter,” said Vokes, a single mother who would not have relished a routine 90-minute commute to class in Richmond. “Having a person in Rappahannock was a huge asset. Professor Dorgan kept in frequent contact with me about coursework and job interviews and went above and beyond for me.”

Advisor Sharon Barnes is responsible for one of the many spokes that radiate from the Roanoke regional center. Traveling to Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville offers Barnes the opportunity to establish a visual presence on that campus and meet students when it is convenient for them, such as between classes or at the end of the day. Faculty and staff at the Roanoke center have similar arrangements with several other community colleges in the area, including Dabney Lancaster, New River, and Virginia Western. Krippel said Fairfax Community College could soon be the site of an adopted center as an extension of Blue Ridge Community College.

“They may not be physically connected with the Staunton campus, but they see the face of Mary Baldwin in their advisor, and they know he or she will be there. They receive the same treatment and care that any adult student would through Mary Baldwin, and they know their diploma will have the Mary Baldwin seal on it,” Krippel said.

*This article originally appeared inThe Cupola,Mary Baldwin’s monthly campus newspaper created by the office of Communication, Marketing, and Public Affairs.