St. Petersburg College is experiencing an explosion of growth — 30 percent over the past three years — in part because the recession has persuaded people to update their work skills or go back to college. Under its new president, Bill Law, SPC is aggressively responding to the opportunity and challenge of such rapid growth. At the top of Law's to-do list, right where it belongs, is improving the quality of the academic experience for SPC students.
Rather than continuing to overload existing faculty with more students, Law will hire several dozen new full-time faculty members over the next two years. Hiring of full-time faculty has not kept pace with SPC growth, Law said, adding that "we cannot continue to grow our programs and courses if we are not prepared to make faculty hiring a clear and enduring priority."
The school's board of trustees is onboard, recently approving an additional $400,000 for new faculty immediately, with more to come in the 2012-13 academic year.
A significant percentage of the new faculty members will be tasked with helping the growing number of students enrolling at SPC who are not quite ready for college-level work.
With a $30,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a school match, SPC is launching "My Bridge to Success," a program that will provide remedial classes for those students, but at a quicker pace and lower cost. Previously, those who tested poorly in any area on the college placement tests were enrolled in a remedial course that provided help in math, reading and writing. Under the new program, students will get help in only the disciplines where they scored poorly. That's a more efficient, less redundant approach that respects students' time, their financial circumstances and their eagerness to begin regular college coursework.
The college also is on the lookout for new offerings to appeal to area students. It is reinstating its theater program, which was shut down in 2001 after decades of popularity. Starting next fall, the program will offer 13 courses ranging from stagecraft and costume construction to acting and directing, mostly on the Clearwater campus. Pinellas' exceptional high school drama programs are likely to provide a steady stream of enthusiastic students for the new courses.
SPC's former president, Carl Kuttler, spent years growing the school's infrastructure and influence in the community. In the six months that Law, former president of Tallahassee Community College, has been at SPC, he has made it clear that his focus will be upgrading the school's academics and improving services to students — areas that have long needed attention. Those initiatives may take a little longer because budgets are tight for Florida colleges. But Law has put his finger on the school's greatest needs. It is an encouraging sign for the future.