Still seven months away from welcoming students to its new digs in Spring Hill, Pasco-Hernando Community College says it will open the doors to a fifth campus in south-central Pasco to serve that sprawling suburbia and the students who otherwise might commute southward for postsecondary education.
This week, the college took title to 60 acres donated by the Porter family, adjacent to Wiregrass Ranch High School on Mansfield Boulevard, Wesley Chapel. The college, already qualifying for $45 million of state capital aid, plans to start construction there in 2012 and begin classes in 2013, 10 years after it introduced classes at Wesley Chapel High School and Victorious Life Church.
The new campus in Wesley Chapel will mirror the benefit coming to Spring Hill. They will be valuable assets to the community by providing more convenient access to college classes for areas not well-served by mass transit and by enriching career-training and economic development opportunities.
Wesley Chapel is a key location for the college, which already has campuses in the New Port Richey, Dade City and Brooksville areas and will open its fourth site in Spring Hill in August. The need for a full-service central Pasco location was magnified by the growth boom in the last decade — the public school district opened three high schools in central Pasco over an eight-year period to serve that student growth — and by the college's inability to connect more easily with those students. The stalled Ridge Road Extension between U.S. 41 and Ridge Road, near the west Pasco campus, meant many central Pasco students found it more convenient to commute to Hillsborough County for their college classes.
When the Wesley Chapel campus opens, it is expected to serve 300 to 500 students immediately. The college had 6,152 full-time students in December, a 20 percent jump over three years earlier, and more than 1,800 students from Lutz, Land O'Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills. The curriculum will include the college's bread-and-butter offerings of associate in arts degrees in traditional academic subjects transferable to four-year institutions as well as associate in science degrees and certificate programs. It has a working agreement to allow transfers to the college from Wiregrass Ranch High School's new information technology career academy. Likewise, PHCC just approved a similar arrangement with Kettering University. That school, in Flint, Mich., features cooperative learning in which engineering and management students split time between classrooms and private-sector jobs sites.
Pasco-Hernando Community College is a commodity worthy of local appreciation because of the educational, cultural and entertainment opportunities it affords the community. Most PHCC alumni live locally and contribute to our social and economic welfare. The college has said 97 percent of its career graduates work in their field of training. They are the teachers, nurses, medical technicians, paramedics, dental hygienists, police and other professionals with whom the public interacts routinely.
Also worthy of recognition is the generosity of the Porter family, who noted the campus won't be far from the former site of a one-room schoolhouse that had been on their property.
The tough task ahead rests with the state Legislature. Per-student funding for Florida's community colleges is down 27 percent over the past three years while enrollment has been surging. It does little good to build a new college campus if PHCC is hard-pressed to pay for the faculty, staff and overhead needed to run it adequately.