PRINEVILLE — Luke Walker has started school this year at Central Oregon Community College’s campus in Prineville.
He’s worked in construction in the past, and wants to earn a better living. At 43, his goal is to get a degree in manufacturing technology.
Because he lives in Prineville, the Crook County Open Campus has helped make returning to school affordable. Walker doesn’t have a job and says driving to Redmond or Bend for classes would be a financial stretch.
Walker is among a growing number of students attending COCC’s Prineville campus, a 12,300-square-foot building at 510 S.E. Lynn Boulevard. The campus, which opened in August 2011, has seen an increase in demand for classes.
In fall 2011, the campus had 179 seats filled among all its classes. In fall 2012, that figure rose to 295, a 65 percent increase, according to the college’s data. The college counts a seat for each student enrolled in a class. For example, one student taking two classes is two seats.
In terms of actual students taking credit courses, the campus had 112 enrolled in fall 2011. In 2012, 167 students enrolled that fall, according to college data.
“We definitely have a really nice mix of transitional, fresh-out-of-high school students and students who are maybe looking for a second career after being a victim of our economy,” said Suzie Kristensen, Prineville campus coordinator.
The first goal at COCC Prineville is to offer all courses necessary for an associate of arts Oregon transfer degree, she said. The campus is within one class of being able to offer that degree. The transfer degree covers the basic requirements students need to transfer as a junior to a public university.
“We are hoping to bring on more degree offerings as the campus grows, but it depends on what students we’re attracting,” Kristensen said. “We’ll make sure we have our eye on what degrees the students are seeking.”
The campus also gauges student interest so they can get a good start on their degree programs before traveling to Bend or Redmond for advanced courses needed to graduate. For example, business, accounting and marketing classes are taught in Prineville.
“The students are all engaged,” said Patti Norris, an adjunct business professor. “I don’t have any in my classes that just sit there in the back and don’t participate.”
Lancelot Falcon teaches a mix of humanities and courses focused on study strategies, college success and test-taking. He said the building is an opportunity to meet the needs of Prineville, providing access that otherwise would only be offered in Redmond or Bend.
“I see many individuals striving to commit to advancing their educations, when they could not have hoped to do so in the past,” Falcon said in an email.
The new campus became a reality after a combination of events. Voters passed a bond for COCC in 2009 that paid for various projects, including the Prineville facility. Crook County obtained a federal technology grant and the two entities partnered together to build and co-own the building.
For Matthew McCoy, vice president for administration at COCC, growth is a clear contrast with 2003, when the college shuttered its rented Prineville storefront due to state funding cuts.
McCoy delivered the bad news. But he didn’t stop there.
“I said we will do everything we can to open up a facility in Prineville, and when we do, our intent will be to be here in our own facility permanently,” he said.