Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks featured in the Lake Today newspaper highlighting campus' growth

From the Lake Today newspaper, published Dec. 21, 2011, and written by Samantha Edmondson:

Columbia College-LOTO: A growth industry
CC-LOTO has grown leaps and bounds since opening 21 years ago
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Columbia College - Lake of the Ozarks opened a new state-of-the-art facility in 2005.

“We saw our biggest enrollment ever this last session,” said Dr. John Keeney, director and teacher of Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks (CC-LOTO) in Osage Beach. “I imagine we will see even bigger enrollment numbers come January, which tends to be are largest session enrollment each school year.”
With those statistics to be determined within a few weeks as the first 2012 session starts Jan. 9 and enrollment taken through Jan. 12, it is proof that the 21-year-old Lake campus of Columbia College has grown exponentially from its initial four classes and 54 enrollments.

According to CC-LOTO enrollment numbers, The 2009-2010 academic year, which includes five sessions, saw a 16 percent increase of 5,116 students compared to the 2008-2009 academic year of 4,415. The 2010-2011 academic year saw yet another 10.7 percent increase with 5,667 total from the previous year.

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The original campus building opened for classes in October of 1990.

In sound reason to celebrate these accolades, the staff and faculty at CC-LOTO celebrate its many pride points for lots of reasons. Keeney said one of the main reasons why he believes the college has maintained its solid and growing reputation in the Lake Area and beyond is because of its maintained connection to students throughout and after their college careers.

“Our No. 1 mission is quality education. We also have a strong commitment to the community that our graduates will come out prepared professionally,” he said. “They know and we stand on record, that if they go to Columbia College, they will get a good education. We have a good reputation and continue to grow with it.”

A solid foundation for education

Keeney came to the newly established Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks campus in September 1990. In about a month, classes started. Already having a rich history working as a high school teacher, principal and adjunct instructor at several different colleges such as Southwest Baptist University and Missouri State University, he was enthused to be a director of a new foundation for higher education.
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Columbia College Lake campus director Dr. John Keeney and assistant director Cathy Whitfield are pictured here at the CC-LOTO 20th Anniversary celebration last year. Both not only run the institution, but also continue to teach, as well.
“We had did a little advertising at the old building (which was located near where the new facility lies). And one of the first persons to walk in and get information about the college was Cathy,” he said with a smile.
Cathy Whitfield, a Tuscumbia area native, had went to school locally and wanted to attend college. However, she got married, had a family and worked for many years as a manager at Carl’s Supermarket, supervising the cashiers and other staff. Yet, she saw an advertisement in the local newspaper about Columbia College opening a Lake Area campus and she and her niece decided to see what it was all about.

“We came over that first day to apply. Whenever we walked in the building, there wasn’t anything there but a table and two folding chairs. We thought, ‘Hmm, I wonder if we are in the right place,’” she said with a laugh. “Then, Dr. Keeney came out, gave us all the information and was real encouraging.”

Whitfield went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in business, but not before she was asked to start working for the college as an administrative assistant.
“Then, Dr. Keeney said you should go on; he always encouraged me. So I went on to get my master’s degree in teaching at William Wood University,” she said.
Now, Whitfield serves as the assistant director of Columbia College-LOTO and teaches business ethics both in the classroom and online.
“I have students all over the world in my online courses, which I really enjoy. They are in the military in Iraq, Italy, everywhere. I also like the classroom because it helps me keep in touch with the students more, as well,” she said.

An education for every student
The connection with students is one of the main reasons why CC-LOTO enrollment numbers continue to grow. However, they still manage to maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio.
“Our student-to-teacher ratio is at about 16 students in a class,” Keeney said. “We are a small school in small community. Once students start going here, they meet our faculty and other students, plus their families. It’s a pretty cohesive group.”
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Lake campus advisors and alumnae Shayla Viele and Rona Prater are pictured here at the Lake campus’ student and alumni business social.
With 45 faculty on board, they have a combined total experience of 330 years working in higher education and many of those with Columbia College. Whitfield added that all of the teachers have also worked in the area or have at one time.
“They have real experience to share with the students,” she added.

For one CC-LOTO alumna, this deep-rooted connection with fellow students, faculty and staff encouraged her to go back to school, receive her degree and then help future students at CC-LOTO as an academic advisor.
Shayla Viele, a Camdenton native, had attended a large Missouri University for a year and a half at Central Missouri State in Warrensburg. However, she got married, got pregnant and decided to return home to raise her family.
“After I had my son (Grant, now 9 years old), I decided I wanted to get back into school. Columbia College is very friendly to young mothers because of the flexibility with classes in the evenings; so I got started,” she explained. “I was a history major and minored in secondary education. I received my teacher’s certificate after that. I started here in 2005 and graduated in 2010.”
Aside from the excellent faculty and favorites such as history teacher Mr. Jim Pasley, she found that one of the most important factors for Viele’s success was the special attention CC-LOTO gave to each individual student’s college path.
“The thing I really loved most about this school were the advisors. I was at my previous college for a year and a half, and I had one 15-minute meeting with an advisor over the phone. It was really hard for me to figure out what I needed to take,” she said. “I could come in here basically anytime, talk with an advisor and they would spend as much time as I needed to explain to me anything I needed to know. That to me is a big deal, because a lot of schools don’t do that.”
Now, Viele carries on that generous assistance as an academic advisor to students at CC-LOTO. She said, for example, she sits down with students who need help learning the E-services system used for online courses at the college and wants every student to feel like they fully understand how their courses and college career are going.
“I think I know where the students are coming from being a recent graduate. A lot of the processes haven’t changed a whole lot, so if a student is confused about something I can help,” she said. “It means a lot to the students to help them through things, instead of telling them to do it. I love working with the students but the faculty and staff are also so wonderful; it’s just a great environment to work in.”
Like Viele, CC-LOTO attracted several non-traditional students and still does today. However, since moving to the new facility, which was specially designed for higher education purposes, Keeney said it has seen an increase of more young students and recent high school graduates from the tri-county area.
“For years prior, we had many non-traditional students with an average age of 36-38. Now, we are a 50-50 split; we have our non-traditional working adults and the other half are recent high school graduates,” he said. “It’s a nice mix and from a teacher’s standpoint, you have the experienced, worldly older person interacting with a younger person who is high-tech and full of new energy. Getting this variety of students in one classroom is real rewarding.”
In addition to a diverse age range of students, CC-LOTO is also seeing a steady flow of students from outlining areas of the Lake.
“We have seen a growing increase of students from Eldon and Camdenton, as well as Tuscumbia, Iberia and other outlining small towns,” Keeney said. “Sometimes in some of these small towns, there may not be a lot of opportunity. However, CC-LOTO gives them the opportunity to give them a (higher) education, so if they choose, they can stay in their community. They can come back and be a teacher, a nurse or get into business right here.”

A true celebration
For CC-LOTO, they have seen so many “pride points” over its 21-year existence and hope to see even more in the future.

The installation of its nursing and teachers education program have seen great success, and helped boost the Lake Area workforce and economy. In fact, they have seen 200 alums of its nursing program, 85 of which work at Lake Regional Health System, and 60 teachers from the education program who work locally.
Many of its popular degree programs include business, teacher education, nursing, criminal justice, human services and psychology. However, as the private college campus grows, they also hope to expand its education opportunities.
“We continually look at degrees to serve our communities and expect to see new degrees in the near future such as health services administration, pre-engineering and expansions of the science offerings here,” he said. “We watched the community and our community advisory committee that observes and talks with us let us know how we can apply those to our education programs and meet those needs.”
Other ways CC-LOTO relates to the community is through its Community Appreciation Day where not only faculty, staff and students, but the community can come in, enjoy family activities, and learn about the college.
“I get a kick out of the young kids; they might be in second or third grade, but they know there is a college here. That is our future,” Keeney said.

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Mr. Jim Pasley with CC-Lake of the Ozarks alumni John Lavanchy and Roy Roark during a past college function.

In addition, he noted that the CC-LOTO academic advisors also visit with high school and junior high school counselors in the area about opportunities, as well as have great relationships with all 12 area school districts across the mid-Missouri area.
“We also host a College Day in the fall, inviting area juniors and seniors to visit, attend workshops about how to go to college, serve them lunch and tour the building,” he said. “It is fun for them to enjoy the experience with other students from their area.”
However, once the students graduate from CC-LOTO, the alumni do not forget the footprints they have left at the private institution. They often return to visit with their now friends in faculty, staff and other students. More importantly, they continue their ongoing education in the professional world through career services programs.
“Part of our focus is to serve the students up to graduation, but it is also part of our mission to continue to serve them after they graduate,” Keeney said. “We host many socials for our different professional groups, which allows them to socialize with fellow alumni and faculty, but also network with members in the community. They are doing it right by getting their name and faces out in the community.”

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Spanish teacher Cinda Muruato walks her class through different vocabulary questions they have.
Whitfield added that CC-LOTO have also been progressive in offering a variety of workshops to help graduates in pursuing work and building a career after college.
“The workshops teach interviewing skills, resume building, job skills and a variety of important topics that will help them continue to succeed in their professional life,” she said.
Keeney said they hope to add more non-credit courses and community service events in the future. Yet, it seems for students, faculty and staff alike that one of the most important moments each year at the CC-LOTO campus is graduation.
“I love knowing all the people here at the college, as I have in past jobs. I know all their names and families. You build a close relationship with those who are here, so it is so rewarding to see them walk across that stage and accept their diploma,” Whitfield said. “I end up crying, it’s like my kids graduating every time.”
“That truly is the best day,” Keeney added. “You watch them for several years and seeing them come across that stage, their family, friends and faculty cheering them on – it is a great moment. Now, we are seeing generational graduates, and not just children of graduates, but grandkids as graduates.”
Keeney and Whitfield, as all the CC-LOTO staff do, continue to showcase their pride daily in the students at their campus. The students know they feel the support when they embraced as part of the CC-LOTO family.
“A large part of our success is our staff. They know how important and hard going to college can be since many attended Columbia College themselves. They go above and beyond to help our students,” she said. “When that student walks up to the window at the main office and the ladies there know them by name; that gives them a sense of comfort that will help them build on their success.”

For more information about CC-LOTO, call 573-348-6463 or visit