Having opportunities for great education, including higher education, is the mark of a strong community. Fortunately, South Shore has some amazing residents who recognized this need and took it upon themselves to make it happen.
South Shore Residents Bring Higher Education to The Area
Let’s go back in time a bit, circa 2000. The South Shore Roundtable, a group of local community and business leaders, including Jim Harkins, Jim Duffy, John Paulk and the Dickmans to name a few began raising the idea of bringing a Hillsborough Community College (HCC) campus to South Shore. It would be a major asset for southern Hillsborough county.
According to Jim Harkins, “Establishing a viable HCC SouthShore campus would provide a critical education venue for the upward mobility of SouthShore residents.”
In early 2002 Jim Harkins and Jan Platt, County Commissioner at the time, approached Gwen Stephenson, then HCC president, and Rob Wolf, then HCC’s Vice President, with the idea. The deal was solidified when the Dickman Education Foundation donated a $6 million parcel of land in Ruskin for the campus.
The project moved forward quickly.
In May of 2002, HCC opened a temporary facility in the Sun Point Shopping Center in Sun City Center. The “Center” opened its doors to just 90 students in the Fall of 2002. HCC held classes here for nearly 6 years while awaiting construction of the permanent campus.
In 2007, Dr. Allen Witt, moved from his position at Palm Beach State College to become the first Academic Dean of the SouthShore Center. In that role he built an ambitious academic program. At the same time, Dean Steven Stancil built the Student Services Division and Dr. George Keith, then Campus President, oversaw the entire project.
The new facility opened on July 1, 2008 and the staff prepared for August classes. Despite the beautiful building and unexpected enrollment, the site was still officially called the SouthShore Center. Finally, a year later the state officially designated it the SouthShore Campus.
When Dr. Keith retired in 2009, Dr. Witt took over the presidency. In 2013, Dean Craig Hardesty and Student Dean Yaima Serrano joined the leadership team. They have led another four years of extraordinary growth and the opening of the new Science and Technology Center, which was dedicated in August 2015.
When classes begin on August 21, 2017 it will mark the 10th year of the HCC SouthShore Campus facility. For a decade it has been among the fastest growing campuses in the state.
Original forecasts indicated HCC SouthShore could expect between 400 and 600 students that first semester in 2008. Dr. Witt had 3 full-time faculty members at the time.
When HCC SouthShore actually opened its doors that August it had enrolled 1652 students. “We had the space,” Dr. Witt says. “I didn’t have the faculty.”
Dr. Witt and his team scrambled to find qualified faculty to join HCC SouthShore.
“I reached out to everybody I could think of that was qualified to teach,” Dr. Witt says. “We were so lucky. We found willing faculty members from so many places, including the University of South Florida. We got really high quality teachers,” Dr. Witt adds.
No rest for the weary, though. The next year, in 2009, HCC SouthShore opened its doors again in August to a student populate that had doubled – to nearly 3300 students. More faculty members were brought in.
Last year, during the summer 2016 – fall 2017 terms, the SouthShore Campus welcomed 8133 students. Dr. Witt expects enrollment to be up 5%, or another 400 students on August 21 when classes start.
Today, HCC SouthShore has 26 full-time faculty members, 100 employees plus another 180-part-time employees, about 130 of whom are adjunct teachers. It’s a modern day success story.
Major Success Story
The growth didn’t happen just by accident. You put a growing (aka exploding community) together with a school that’s offering incredible programs and you understand HCC SouthShore’s success.
To begin with, students can get almost any transfer degree at HCC SouthShore. This means they can get the necessary requirements, at far less cost and commuting distance, and then transfer to any public Florida institution to finish out their degree. Local accessibility to the South Shore Campus is one of the primary reasons for its explosive growth.
“Some students just couldn’t get to the Brandon, Dale Mabry or Ybor City campuses,” Dr. Witt says. “They can get here.”
Another plus? Class sizes are small compared to many schools, with an average of 24 students per class. This simply means far more personal attention.
HCC SouthShore also offers one-stop services. “Students can walk on campus on any given day,” says Dr. Witt, “and see an advisor, academic support, get registered and find a free tutor.”
Additionally, HCC SouthShore is not a research institution so faculty are not torn between research expectations and teaching. Faculty are solely focused on teaching and students recognize this.
HCC SouthShore has many great programs from Associate in Arts Degrees in Business Administration, Computer Information Systems to Pharmacy and Associate in Science Degrees in Emergency Medical Services and Nursing, but a few programs really stand out above the rest.
“One of the coolest programs we have,” says Dr. Witt “is our Collegiate Academy Program.”
The Collegiate Academy is a new 4-year, 60-credit program. The first students just graduated in the spring of 2017.
Lennard High School’s best and brightest students, who must meet specific requirements and be recommended, have the opportunity to participate in this dual enrollment program. They begin the program as high school freshmen and by the time they graduate high school they will also have graduated from HCC SouthShore with a two-year degree (but they must get their high school diploma first). Florida’s public institutions are then required to take these transfer credits.
The program gets better. Lennard High School pays for the books and HCC’s tuition is waived. There is no cost to students whatsoever. They finish high school and enter college with two years already under their belt. There are currently 300 Lennard High School students enrolled in this program with 120 more about to join.
The Collegiate Academy, pioneered at HCC SouthShore, has spread to three other sites around the county.
HCC’s Nursing Program is yet another super star. It has three times the number of applicants as they have available seats. HCC SouthShore is one of three campuses to deliver this program. Many of the nursing students transfer to University of South Florida. Again, by coming through HCC they already have two years of course work done, at a fraction of the cost.
HCC South Shore also delivers Amazon’s programs (Ruskin facility).
In the spring of 2016 HCC SouthShore and Amazon entered into an agreement where HCC SouthShore delivers job training for Amazon workers. Interestingly, the job training is not for skills employees need to work at Amazon, but skills they need when leaving Amazon. Amazon knows many of its workers do not consider their job at Amazon to be a forever job, so Amazon helps them to the next step. Amazon pays for 90% books and tuition.
HCC SouthShore teaches classes that coincide with people’s shifts at Amazon, just before or after. Some classes are taught on the HCC SouthShore campus and others are delivered at Amazon’s Ruskin facility. To date HCC SouthShore has done EMT training, Nursing Assistant training and are now offering Patient Care Technician training. Amazon also has a list of 15 more courses employees have indicated they would like. HCC SouthShore will add these one at a time.
HCC SouthShore: The Future
HCC SouthShore has a new approved building on the list for state funding. It will be a career transition center with a focus on vocational training. The new building will serve to help people with job training, transitioning from one job to another and with the move from household work to a career. They also plan to host all student services in this building from academic advising, financial aid and more.
While HCC is still waiting for funding, State budgets have been very tight the past two years, HCC is hoping it will come through in 2018, which would mean they could have the building ready to serve students a few years later.
An Incredible Addition to Our Community
“Amazing things can happen in our communities when we all work together for the common good. This campus is an example of the college, community and government officials making something happen where all can benefit,” says Rob Wolf, now President of Galen College of Nursing of Tampa Bay.
“We had the perfect storm when we opened 10 years ago,” says Dr. Witt. “We started at a time when people had trouble getting jobs so we were able to hire really qualified faculty and they’ve stayed. It was also a time when a lot of people were out of work so our student population far exceeded expectations and hasn’t stopped.”
Just one more reason we’re so lucky to live in South Shore.
For more information on HCC SouthShore CLICK HERE.
Footnote: Dr. Allen Witt will become temporary President of HCC’s Dale Mabry campus this fall. Despite the career move he and his wife Mercedes will remain proud residents of Ruskin.