In the 1970’s, the Justice Department determined that remnants of a dual-race educational system continued to exist in Louisiana’s post-secondary educational structure, triggering a Federal lawsuit. After over two decades of legal maneuverings and a failed attempt by the state to successfully integrate its school systems, Louisiana managed to strike a deal. The Desegregation Settlement Agreement of 1994 included a mandate for the establishment of an open-admissions community college system offering remedial education, vocational, technical, and adult education; transferability to four-year colleges; and a diverse student body, faculty, and staff. In 1996, the college began operations under the joint governance of the boards for Louisiana State University and Southern University.
Realization of Destiny
On August 20, 1998, Baton Rouge Community College (BRCC) officially opened its doors. The top estimate of expected enrollment was 700 students. But the new college’s faculty and staff were shocked to find almost triple that number – 1,866 enrollees – waiting.
The college’s faculty and staff scrambled to find additional seats, classroom space, and even instructors. However, the problem went beyond mere logistics. BRCC was forced to meet the needs of a widely varying student body - traditional, non-traditional, special-needs, first-generation, and continuing-education students – all reflecting the diverse residents within the eight-parish area it served.
The first year was only the beginning. By 1999, BRCC, described by the Baton Rouge Advocate as “bursting at the seams,” was earnestly looking around for still more classroom space. Unlike other educational institutions where facilities are established and the school has advance time to plan for and expand to meet growth, BRCC’s wild success placed it on a razor’s edge, racing to meet the needs of an ever-growing student population. Alternative financing enabled the college to accomplish the quick construction of additional facilities as demand skyrocketed.
To deal with the rapidly climbing enrollment, the state acquired the 60,000 square-foot James M. Frazier, Sr. Building, located on Highland Road east of the Mississippi River Bridge. The college began operations at this new site in the fall of 1999. By the time BRCC’s first classroom and administration facility, Governor’s Building, had opened, enrollment was projected to reach 4000. Funds were appropriated for the Louisiana Building, completed in 2002; and to resolve the ever-present issue of parking, a 912-space parking garage was added in 2003. By 2004, BRCC completed its Bienvenue Student Center, designed to provide a one-stop-shop for student services and activities, including a bookstore and cafeteria. The Cypress Science and Technology Building was completed in 2005 with computer classrooms, state-of-the-art science labs, and a greenhouse. The Magnolia Library and Performing Arts Pavilion opened that same year, beginning its tradition of providing fine art and entertainment to the community. Construction is underway on BRCC’s new Health and Wellness Center, scheduled for completion in 2008.
The Drive to Accreditation
After establishing its presence in the community, the college next sought accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). As a highly reputable institution with high standards for excellence, SACS’ standards for acceptance are equally thorough. At first, BRCC faced a daunting challenge in SACS’ Condition Thirteen, a critical parameter of its accreditation criteria. Condition Thirteen demands that an applicant has sufficient resources to support the instructional and administrative functions of a college.
Due to its incredible growth, the BRCC found itself a victim of its own success: SACS auditors highlighted areas where there were significant concerns with the college’s capabilities. To ensure achievement of accreditation, BRCC dedicated funds and personnel resources for the Office of Administration and Finance (OAF) and assigned it the task of resolving the college’s accreditation issues. The OAF immediately conducted an analysis to assess the current staffing, review the audits’ findings, and develop strategies that would advance the college’s operations. After determining the key areas of difficulty, the OAF assigned “champions” for those areas and developed a planning and budgetary process that included all of the college’s personnel.
The OAF’s efforts paid off. In 2002, BRCC met the demanding criteria insisted upon by SACS, and the college received full accreditation status in 2004. Several of the strategies used successfully by the OAF to gain accreditation, such as the annual unit/budget planning period, continue to be refined and used today.
Augmentation of Academics
BRCC established a strong academic foundation by instituting several degree programs: Liberal Arts, General Studies, and Science (including two Applied Sciences programs). However, the goal of BRCC’s administration was to create more than just simple scholastics. BRCC wanted programs that addressed the needs of a major metropolitan community that is a critical political and manufacturing center of the state, as well as the home of a significant academic research institution.
The college enhanced its available programs with concentrations that would better serve specific career educational needs of students. In the course of one year, the faculty developed and implemented 18-hour concentrations within the general studies/general science degrees, including chemistry, landscape management, criminal justice, global studies, and teacher education.
As an institution with an ingrained awareness of its membership and participation in the community, BRCC continually examines its degree programs to identify career programs that would better enable its students to supplement the region’s labor market. To that end, BRCC began offering an associate-degree nursing program in 2007, and is pursuing the establishment of a full teacher education program. Additional consideration is being given to fields such as public safety, interpreter preparation, radiation therapy, construction management, and even biotechnology. As an adaptable institution largely unburdened by tradition, BRCC is also able to explore unique opportunities in fields such as film and animation, video-game design, studio arts, and entertainment technology.
State-of-the-Art Teaching for State-of-the-Art Learning
The development of key academic programs and fields of study is only half the battle of successful academics. An educational institution must be able to measure learning – the success of conveying knowledge to its students. It is a critical component in the educational process. BRCC dedicates itself to providing continuing education for its faculty and staff, particularly in keeping up with the most modern and effective means to carry out their mandate of instructing students. To help achieve this, the college created a Teaching and Learning Center for its faculty. Designed as a place of discussion where faculty can more critically examine their classroom experience and their teaching methods, the Center has the goal of promoting collaboration and innovation in the teaching process. The end result is the development and sharing of refined teaching practices and techniques that can be effectively utilized in the classroom.
BRCC also recognizes the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning effectiveness. Through the examination of technology’s use in education – as well as an eye toward adapting and innovating technology in new ways – BRCC makes every effort to use and adapt cutting-edge equipment and processes to increase teacher effectiveness, enhance teaching practices, and enhance learning and knowledge retention.
Spreading the News
As a member of the community, BRCC was acutely aware of the need to keep the community informed about its activities and endeavors. It worked to develop and strengthen business partnerships, maintaining open lines of communication with them in order to better serve their needs when creating career and technical programs. It worked to promote college activities and accomplishments whenever media opportunities presented themselves.
As a new institution, BRCC found itself the victim of a number of missteps and growing pains – a situation common to the new beginnings of any enterprise. However, through continued, active communication with the community and its interests, BRCC has rightfully gained its reputation as a strong community participant and a quality academic institution that strives for excellence in providing a world-class education to its students.
As BRCC’s student population has grown, so has its administration and facilities. BRCC now boasts a faculty of over 100 full-time instructors, 15 librarian staff, and over 200 adjunct faculty members. The college features an automated testing center, computerized information kiosks in every building, classrooms with cutting-edge teaching equipment, and Wi-Fi access campus-wide. Its Magnolia Library holds over 30,000 volumes, with access to netLibrary’s online collection of e-books; and the college’s Performing Arts Pavilion has established a strong tradition of providing fine entertainment to the community with guests such as Dr. Maya Angelou, Bill Cosby, Jay Leno, the Acting Company, the Czech Nonet, and the Harlem Gospel Choir.
Originally designated to serve its local eight-parish area, BRCC has found itself evolving into a major center of education, with a diverse student body that reflects growing statewide, national, and international representation. Despite the College’s incredible growth and its continual development, its mission is unchanged: To exhibit excellence in teaching, allow access for all, and be a sustaining resource in the economic development of the state of Louisiana. These principles guide Baton Rouge Community College as it continues to expand, develop, and evolve in assuming its rightful place as an academic capital of learning for the 21st century.