Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Adults find new option for college

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Two years ago, Renee Jackson was enrolling her daughter at First District Elementary when she read a notice about a new center where college credits could be earned for $10 a course.

        “As a teen-ager, I didn't appreciate college,” said Mrs. Jackson, who dropped out of school after too much partying. “I've always wanted to be a nurse, though. I thought this would help me with my basic skills, and get me back on track.”

        Today, Mrs. Jackson splits time among family responsibilities, a full-time job as a patient care assistant and weekly classes at Northern Kentucky University.

        “I couldn't have done it without the Urban Learning Center,” Mrs. Jackson said. “They always had someone there to watch my kids, and they were eager to help me, if there was anything I didn't understand.”

        To help reach more nontraditional students such as Mrs. Jackson, the center recently secured $274,000 in federal funds, center supporters said. Those funds include a $74,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

        Formed in January 1998 as a partnership with NKU, Thomas More College, Northern Kentucky Technical College, Covington Independent Schools, Forward Quest and the Covington Community Center, the Ur ban Learning Center has relied on grants for most of its funding.

        Through the center, adults can take up to 30 credit hours of remedial and entry-level university and technical courses in an envi ronment close to their homes, before finishing their degree at one of the participating colleges.

        With the additional grant

        money — secured with the help of U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Fort Mitchell, and U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate — the center has added weekend classes and will offer its first summer session this year, said Ellen Muse-Lindeman of the Covington Community Center.

        The additional funding also will allow the hiring of a full-time director and academic counselor, and a part-time Educational Technology Coordinator to oversee its computer lab at John G. Carlisle, Ms. Muse-Lindeman said.

        And in yet another change, the center is adding a Newport site this fall.

        Three classes will be offered at Newport Middle School, thanks to a federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant of more than $1 million, said Paul Baker, a Newport schools employee and one of the grant writers who helped secure the funding.

        While the Newport site “will start out slow” with only three courses, Mr. Baker is excited about the potential for expansion.

        “With all the new hotels coming in, maybe we could eventually offer some hospitality courses,” Mr. Baker said. “Another possibility would be a course in graphic arts for more vocational minded folks. The sky could be the limit on this.”

        Since the center opened three years ago at John G. Carlisle Elementary, it has since expanded to Holmes High School and Ninth District School, and has had more than 400 students pass through its doors.

        “The Urban Learning Center has shown that the need is there, that people are willing to go to school at night and on weekends, if they have the right support systems, such as free on-site child care, easy access, etc.,” said Covington City Commissioner J.T. Spence, who has led a group supporting a learning center that reaches out to nontraditional students. “What's more remarkable is the success the center has enjoyed without a large marketing budget.”

        Students find out about the Urban Learning Center mostly through word of mouth, newspaper articles and contacts at their jobs, Ms. Muse-Lindeman said.

        With help from Forward Quest, and gifts from Huntington Bank and the Scripps Howard Foundation, an endowment fund for the learning center was established in March.

        So far, Forward Quest has commitments of $100,000, and it ultimately hopes to raise $500,000 for the Urban Learning Center Fund under the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

        “Our idea is that when the new community and technical college for Northern Kentucky is established, a major part of that will be in Covington,” said Mike Hammons, president of Forward Quest, a development planning coalition in Northern Kentucky. “(The local community and technical college) will handle the recruitment and registration, but they'll have to charge for that, so we'll need an endowment so that we can continue making those classes available to low-income students.”

        Charles Stebbins, chief operating officer for Northern Kentucky's new community and technical college now being developed, said that he sees the Urban Learning Center as a critical part of that new endeavor.

        “Initially, we'll be leasing space for Urban Learning Center activities in downtown (Covington),” Dr. Stebbins said. “We also will be cooperating with schools in the urban area to offer classes there, and we're talking with the housing authority (of Covington) about developing some classes that could be taught at those sites.”

        The learning center will continue to be funded with grants, but backers of Northern Kentucky's new community and technical college hope to get permanent funding approved by the 2002 General Assembly, Dr. Stebbins said.


               Registration for the Urban Learning Center's first summer session — from May 14 to June 22 — will be 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at John G. Carlisle School in Covington. All new students are required to attend a brief orientation session at 6:30 p.m.

        Courses will be Introduction to Accounting, Basic English Composition, Introduction to Microsoft Word, and Intermediate Microsoft Word.

        For information, call Faye Massey at (859) 491-2220, Ext. 18.


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