By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Most high school students dream of going to a big-time college — maybe Stanford, or the University of Michigan, Penn State or Florida State. Colleges that are iconic on the American landscape and have tens of thousands of students and high profile athletic teams.
But those types of colleges aren’t always a realistic option for many students, which is why community colleges such as Atlantic Cape have been thriving in the United States for decades. Andre Richburg, Dean of Enrollment Management and College Relations at ACCC, believes his school can offer a high school student a great start to earning a four-year degree — and at a much more affordable cost.
The cost of college has skyrocketed in the past 20 years and many families can’t afford to send their children off to a big private school, even with financial aid. But Richburg said he and the staff at ACCC work hard every day to convince students that ACCC can be much more of a first option than a last resort.
“I always say a lot of 17- and 18-year-olds are looking at the shiny object, and they see community college as a dull penny. But they realize when they get here that this is a good decision for them. When you talk to some of the leaders on our campus, they chose us for a reason and not because they had no other option, and that speaks volumes,” Richburg said. “We’re an associates granting school, which most community colleges are, and we’re celebrating our 50th year this year, so we’re promoting a bunch of events to commemorate that milestone. We’re one of the top community colleges when it comes to offering students online programs exclusively. We offer 12 of them that students can pursue online.”
Keeping up with the times is important for any community college, which is why ACCC offers so much in the way of online education. The school also has three campuses, it’s main campus in Mays Landing along with satellite sites in Cape May and Atlantic City.
“As recently as last fall’s term, we established seven programs a student can pursue at the Cape May campus, whereas before they weren’t able to do that,” Richburg said. “They would have to travel to the main campus to complete their degrees, so that’s a way for us to attract more people to the Cape May campus.”
Richburg said the ACCC staff spends a lot of time visiting area high schools to help break down the myth that community college is just an extension of high school, and can be a great first option when it comes to a student gaining a four-year bachelor’s degree. Not only does starting out at ACCC make financial sense, Richburg said, but the college also provides students with a great learning experience.
“That’s one of the things we promote on a regular basis, the money a student will save if they choose to come here — or any community college — first before transferring to the school where they will eventually get their bachelor’s degree. But we also promote the quality of our education. I think that’s another misnomer that community colleges have — that if you come here you’re going to get a less-than-stellar faculty member, that it will have a high school feel to it and you won’t be challenged at all in your classes. But that’s not the case at all,” he said. “I’ve heard throughout my years of experience that some of the community college instructors are just as challenging — if not more — than at a four-year school. But if you’re not in it, you can’t feel it. That’s one of the things my recruiters and marketing staff are constantly combating, making sure that we let people know the quality of our education is high.”
To help students understand what ACCC — which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — is all about, Richburg said the staff spends a lot of time visiting area high schools as well as transfer and job fairs throughout the region.
“We’re constantly in the high schools of the counties that we serve. We’re one of just two community colleges in the state that is serving two counties. We’re always promoting our programs, and our base recruiting program is called Jump Start,” Richburg said. “That’s three-pronged effort to recruit our students. The first part is our recruiters will go into the high schools to speak about the quality of our programs and things that are needed to apply to our school. The second part is, students are given the placement exam by our testing staff. The third round is our advisory staff going into the schools to get them registered for courses. So they see a lot of us throughout the year. And that’s in addition to any college or career fairs we go to.”
The staff at ACCC also understands how important reaching potential students online is.
“We have two eight-week online programs within our normal terms. We promote those by targeting folks who are looking for specific words online through geofencing,” Richburg explained. “We’re really doing that specifically for our culinary program because we want to do more of an outreach for those students to draw more enrollment for that program. We realize there are a lot of folks who would like to stay home and do their work at their leisure. (Online) has been a huge effort of ours the past two years.”
The college has long been known for its culinary program, and the greater Atlantic City area is filled with outstanding restaurant talent who got their start at ACCC.
“I hear a lot about criminal justice being very popular, but the cornerstone program is culinary. We’re very well known for that in this region. We have 100 percent job placement through that program. With Atlantic City in our backyard, the potential for work is always there. Even with the non-casino part, there are a lot of restaurants in the area for our students to explore, and we’re fortunate to have that. And Philadelphia isn’t that far,” Richburg said. “We use a lot of our connections through alumni. There are a lot of alumni in the area who work at or own their own restaurants and businesses, so that’s been a cornerstone of the college for a very long time.”
In keeping with its 50th anniversary theme, ACCC has a host of special events going on in the 2016-2017 school year. Earlier in the year a community event was held, there is a Restaurant Gala coming up in March at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, a 5K race in April in Cape May Court House, and Careme’s Cafe Series in May, among other events. Also, ACCC will be putting together a time capsule to be opened in 50 years, when the school turns 100.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN