Columbia College’s campuses in Florida see solid enrollment growth; singled out by ‘U.S.News” in new ratings catergory, “Least Debt Load’ upon graduation

Brevard Business News
By Ken Datzman
Monday, August 6, 2012

Columbia College’s satellite campuses in the Sunshine State, including sites at Patrick Air Force Base, Orlando, and Jacksonville, are experiencing solid enrollment growth as the Missouri–based institution ramps up its branding efforts.
The surge is being driven in part by affordability, a hybrid–learning format that combines in–seat instruction with online study, eight–week sessions with five starts per year, and other conveniences that cater to busy adult students.

“A lot of people are retooling for the next wave of opportunities in the job market,” said
Dr. Jeffrey Musgrove, director of Columbia College’s Southeast Region, which comprises eight campuses in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, as well as Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. has a naval station.

“The Florida campuses of Columbia College are doing very well, across the board. If you look at our year–to–year projections, there has been linear growth at all our locations throughout Florida. Student participation is up, our enrollment numbers are up, and our graduation numbers are up,” he added.

And Columbia College students are earning their degrees without being saddled with large amounts of debt as a result of education loans.

A new category that “U.S. News & World Report” has added to its annual rankings of “America’s Best Colleges,” shows Columbia College shining brightly in the “Least Debt Load” upon graduation. “We’re proud of that,” he says.

Founded in 1851, private, nonprofit Columbia College offers both associate and bachelor degrees in the local market. The areas of concentration include business, management–information systems, and criminal justice.

Fifty–three students have just graduated with their degrees from Columbia College’s Education Center at PAFB. It was the 12th commencement ceremony for that campus, which averages 180 to 200 enrollments per session.

Dr. Musgrove opened the PAFB site 13 years ago, with 12 students enrolled for classes, and has overseen it ever since. He served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring as a first sergeant for the Security Forces Squadron at PAFB.

Columbia College serves both the military and civilian populations at its satellite campuses across the nation. They have 35 campuses nationwide, including 18 on military bases.

“G.I. Jobs” magazine selected Columbia College as a “military–friendly” school for 2012 because of its commitment to educating military and student veterans. The honor places the college in the top 15 percent of schools nationwide.

The magazine evaluates institutions on such things as being a VA–approved school for the GI Bill, generous transfer–credit policies, flexible learning programs and tuition benefits.

In addition, Columbia College was singled out by “Military Advanced Education,” a publication that focuses on educational services and opportunities for military students. It invited more than 3,000 institutions to share their “military– friendly practices.” Only 10 percent were selected as being military–friendly. Institutions such as Columbia College, says MAE, set the “gold standard” for serving the military.

Locally, Columbia College offers students the hybrid format for select courses.

“We recently started going that route. It provides more opportunity for the student,” said Dr. Musgrove., a respected clearinghouse of accredited online programs, designated Columbia College as a “Best Buy” for several of its web–based degrees.

The college’s online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice ranked among the “top five best buys” as did the online four–year degree programs in business, human services, psychology, and sociology.

“Today more students are migrating toward online instruction because of the convenience factor. As students mature, time becomes more critical for them,” said Dr. Musgrove, adding, “If they like the initial experience, they tend to stay online.”

The Sloan Consortium’s 2011 “Survey of Online Learning,” a collaborative effort between the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, reveals that the number of students taking at least one online course has now surpassed 6 million.

What that means is nearly one–third of all students in higher education today are taking at least one Web–based course. The rate of growth in online enrollments is 10 times that of the rate in all higher education, the report said.

Each market, however, has its own distinct characteristics, said Dr. Musgrove. For example, the trend for Columbia College in Orlando stands out in a different way.

“Those students prefer seat–based classes, and enrollment is surging,” he said.

“At Patrick, it’s a 50–50 mix of seat–based instruction and online learning. You could see the trend develop, especially at the military locations because of deployments. If they are deployed to a place where there is connectivity, they will continue their course work.” 

Columbia College in Orlando typically enrolls 1,600 or more students per session making it the school’s largest extension campus. “Our Orlando campus is an incredible story,” he said.

 At the recent graduation ceremony of Columbia College in Orlando, 230 students were awarded their degrees.

“That’s huge for us.”

Business, criminal justice, and human services are the most popular degree programs for Columbia College in Orlando.

In Jacksonville, where Columbia College has two campuses, one on a naval base, more than 100 students are set to graduate the first week of August.

Someday, Columbia College could have two campuses in Brevard, a 72–mile–long county. “Our goal is to eventually have an off–base location. And I think our strategic plan will lead us there,” said Dr. Musgrove.