AACC Charts Successful Path For Students Of All Career Interests

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Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) is one of the oldest community colleges in Maryland, yet it has one of the freshest approaches to student advancement.

“The fact that AACC has been around since the beginning of the community college movement, it has allowed for AACC to provide services that students need,” said Patrice Lyons, assistant director of articulation and transfer in counseling, advising and retention services. “It’s not in a trial-and-error mode, and we are able to stay up-to-date and be flexible with the times.”

Founded in 1961, AACC is a two-year public university that stresses high-quality, affordable and accessible learning opportunities. The school offers roughly 225 programs, more than 3,500 courses and serves about 50,000 credit and noncredit students each year. But the impact goes beyond what can be expressed with statistics. Advisers and staff are passionate about helping students with the educational planning process, a vital aspect for every person with the goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

“We can work with students to develop a plan – which courses to take, when to take them, and we help them transition,” said Bonnie Garrett, director of counseling, advising and retention services. “We look at another school’s [first] two years for a major, so when the student gets there, they have that background. We can see how specific courses will transfer. It’s a comprehensive process from beginning to end.”

A web-based system called ARTSYS allows advisers to see how courses will transfer in advance of the student taking the class. Using that resource, the staff can tailor a plan for an individual with any career aspirations, regardless of whether that major is offered at AACC.

“If you go through the [AACC] catalog, you won’t find a major for sociology,” Lyons said. “But the transfer studies program allows us to develop a plan that will allow a student to transfer to just about any educational institution in the country.”

The process ensures that every student is presented with the best path to success, and that progression does not end at enrollment. “For new students that are coming in and are undecided about their major, we can form a plan … so they can transfer and be juniors in their major,” Lyons noted. Garret added that services also serve those who do not plan to transfer after their coursework is complete. “For students who aren’t planning to transfer, we prepare them for the workforce by helping them find those opportunities, whether it’s with job fairs or helping them with résumés and cover letters,” Garret said.

And just because AACC is a community college, there should be no expectation of easier course difficulty. “The courses are not easy,” remarked Lyons, who taught at universities all over the country prior to joining the AACC staff. “Students excel because the teachers are dedicated to helping them learn the material and the classes are smaller … At AACC, you might take an Intro to Sociology course with 50 people. That may seem relatively large, but I taught at Penn State [University], and there would be 200 people in that same class.”

AACC also harbors diversity among its students. “That makes for an interesting dynamic in the classroom,” Lyons expressed. “You have someone who is 18 hearing from someone who lived during the Great Depression or who had a victory garden. The student is getting an element of real-life experience.”

Many adults transfer from AACC into schools spanning the country, from Maryland to California and Texas. But for some students who want to remain in Anne Arundel County, there is an opportunity to take advantage of the AACC university consortium, which allows some majors the opportunity to earn a bachelor or graduate degree without leaving the county. Offered in partnership with several Maryland colleges, those classes are held at AACC at Arundel Mills in Hanover.

Because AACC has been so successful in helping students achieve their career goals, there are no plans to make AACC a four-year institution. Staff members are proud of the impact they get to make each day.

“Getting a good education is one of the most important things anyone does for themselves,” Garrett said. “When we [advisers] help facilitate that, it’s part of a perfect circle.”

AACC’s Arnold campus is located at 101 College Parkway. For more information about majors and programs, visit www.aacc.edu/transfer or call 410-777-AACC.

Photo by Zach Sparks

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