By Jessica Oladapo, RVC Assistant Professor of Sociology
The new downtown campus of RVC opened in August for classes for the fall 2016 semester. With classrooms that overlook the Rock River, and in a prime location for access to transportation, downtown eateries, the Main Library, and other downtown services and agencies, the location has proven to be even more ideal than anticipated. Additionally, several students have expressed that the proximity to their homes makes college attendance and educational attainment a reality.
The services provided at the Downtown Campus, as well, is an intentional attempt to ensure student success. Students may make appointments with recruiters or advisors who come over from the Main Campus weekly. They may also obtain tutoring services and testing services, and some of the faculty members hold office hours in the new location. And beginning in the spring, Financial Aid assistance will also be available by appointment. There are two large computer labs used for classes, but also smaller rooms with computers that may be used for small group work and breakout sessions. The campus also has comfortable student friendly spaces for relaxing between classes or studying. Students may also access the Downtown Campus after five, with tutoring and support staff on hand to assist. The classes are smaller, which might allow for instructors to engage with students on a more intimate level. One such student, an older woman with issues with mobility confided that she was glad that the downtown campus was an option with its smaller classes. She suggested that going to main campus in her case was sometimes overwhelming, based on the pace as well as the space. “Here,” she said, “everything is in one place, on one floor, which helps.” I appreciated her honesty. It also challenged me to think differently about the population of students served. Initially, I believe that I fell into the trap of believing that students who would choose the downtown campus only did so out of necessity, related to housing, or proximity to child care, or because they were taking developmental classes not offered at Main Campus. However, that conversation gave me a view of, “if we build it, they will come.”
One of the common misconceptions about the Downtown Campus is that it only houses the Adult Education department. The Adult Education Department is a necessary element in educating our community. In a community in which less than 60% of those who begin high school complete, the availability of a campus that serves adults who return to school to complete high school requirements and advance through higher education is most certainly crucial for the health and growth of our community. Therefore, the adult education department is an important component of the campus. However, that is not the totality of offerings at the new campus. Students are able to take a variety of General educations courses at the downtown campus as well. Humanities courses, 100 and 200 level Sociology courses, Psychology courses, English courses Speech courses, and Graphic Arts courses are all available as credit courses. It is our hope that college-level Math courses and other credit courses will follow. And while the downtown campus is by no means a one-stop-shop, as students cannot complete degree programs at the location, the ability for students to have access is paramount to the success of the Rockford area. Additionally, for those students who build relationships with staff at the Downtown Campus through the Adult Education Department, it is, of course, our hope that they would continue on and pursue and receive degrees and/or certificates. A good way for these students to transition into degree completion programs would be to offer general education courses that are accessible.
However, it is important to note again, that the students taking classes and receiving services at the downtown campus are not a monolithic group. There are a variety of experiences, stories, reasons, ages, and motivations for the campus. The unifying theme or all of these stories, however, is access. As the area community college, it is our responsibility to provide access to all populations of the city. It is especially important to have a presence in areas that may experience disadvantage or deficits in educationally access. It is imperative that we address the educational needs of the entire community if we are to be true to the stated mission and values of the college. The mission of the college to “empower students and community through lifelong learning,” is a worthy and worthwhile mission. The values of having a learner-centered community, diversity of difference and thought, and public trust are all necessary in a multicultural society and community. This bright new campus attempts to deliver on both the mission and the values.
If you have not already, we invite you to come tour the new campus and the surrounding area to see what Downtown RVC has to offer. We’d love to have you!