The University of Maryland at College Park may be the largest campus in Prince George's County, but it's not the only one.
With more than 13,000 credit-seeking students expected to attend Largo-based Prince George's Community College in the fall -- a 7 percent increase over the previous school year -- community college officials are touting their school as the place to be for students who want small class sizes, affordability and some brand-new programs.
As Verna Teasdale sees it, the increase in enrollment is part of a nationwide trend that has seen attendance grow at junior colleges.
"People are looking at community colleges because of the rising costs of tuition at our four-year colleges and universities," said Teasdale, academic assistant to the vice president for instruction.
Still, the community college recognizes its role in higher education, which for many students means sharpening skills and earning enough credits to enroll in a four-year college.
Since about 30 percent of Prince George's Community College students go on to four-year colleges, developing programs that transfer seamlessly to other schools is one of PGCC's goals. One new program that fits into that plan is the forensic sciences transfer program, under which students who study law enforcement investigation techniques at the community college can transfer their credits to any Maryland college or university offering a degree in the discipline. Another new program will enable students who want to teach secondary education to transfer credits to a four-year college.
Prince George's Community College President Ronald A. Williams said that he is proud of the new and existing programs.
At Prince George's Community College, students can earn associate's degrees in arts and sciences and teaching if they complete the required courses at the main Largo campus or satellite campuses in Hyattsville, Laurel and Andrews Air Force Base. Students can then transfer those degrees to four-year colleges. Also, for the first time, the college will offer a degree in graphic design this year.
Along with its traditional program, the community college recently started reaching out to the county's growing Hispanic population.
"We've been visiting many churches and community organizations, talking about the benefits of higher education and the kinds of paperwork needed to get into school,'' said Charlene M. Dukes, vice president for student services at the college and a member of the Prince George's County Board of Education. "We've hired student ambassadors who go with us and talk to friends and parents of friends."
The many facets of the college are what makes it appealing, Williams said.
"We have an institution that has demonstrated its capacity to get students into the University of Maryland and other schools," he said.
Still, Williams stressed that one of the college's main focuses is job training and career advancement for working adults. He pointed to the community college's year-old construction management program.
"I expect a tremendous amount of growth [in that program] over the next few years," Williams said, noting that it often takes a while for new programs to take root.
Daniel Mosser, vice president for workforce development and continuing education, helps develop programs for working adults and the local business community. He said that of the 75 percent of PGCC students who are older and are enrolled part time, many are taking courses to further their careers. The college has contracts with about 50 businesses a year to create "customized training" to enhance employees' skills.
"The employer comes to us and we put together a customized class in Spanish language, or computer skills, negotiation skills, or leadership," Mosser said.
As for graduating high school students, Mosser said many of them perceive PGCC to be a "13th grade," just another year of high school and not "real" college. But that is changing, he said.
Prohibitive costs and tougher entry standards at four-year colleges are driving many bright students to the community college.
"The university system is getting squeezed," Mosser said. "We're finding more and more students who would have been accepted [at other schools in the past] are getting turned down and ending up here."
Even parents whose children have been accepted at four-year colleges are finding that Prince George's Community College makes more sense for their families. Modupe Somade, a nurse from Beltsville whose son Tunde was slated to attend Bloomfield College in New Jersey, said he now plans to attend Prince George's Community College in the fall.
"We'll save some money, and if he does well he can get a scholarship," Somade said, adding that she hopes he can transfer to a four-year college after two years.
Tunde, a High Point High School graduate and aspiring actor, was accepted at Bloomfield and had his heart set on going there. According to Somade, the school would have cost her family more than $16,750 a year in tuition and housing, minus some small student loans, which she was willing to pay. She even made the first payment. But then Somade said she learned that the college had a housing shortage and that her son would be 40th on a waiting list. Somade said that meant her son would have to look for an off-campus apartment, which is often hard to find and can cost as much as $800 a month.
Amid all the uncertainty, Somade said, nearby Prince George's Community College suddenly seemed a reasonable option.
In fact, with the community college charging $90 per credit hour, and Tunde living at home, the cost of a whole semester turns out to be about the same as the $1,500 a month she would have paid for Bloomfield.
"This is the best way to go," she said. "You save money, and some people get scholarships when they transfer. It's easier on us."
For Prince George's Community College admission and registration information, call 301-322-0801 or 301-322-0866, or visit the Web site, www.pgcc.edu. Registration ends Aug. 27.
The main campus is at 301 Largo Rd., Largo. Satellite campuses are at the University Town Center, Hyattsville; Laurel College Center, Laurel; and at Andrews Air Force Base.