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Planning continues for new college debut in 2017

Published on 20th February 2016

     For western Pennsylvania students interested in earning an associate's degree in their chosen field, a new institution has undergone planning on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Rural Regional College of Northern Pennsylvania and is slated to open in the fall of 2017.
     Residents of Cameron, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Potter, Venango and Warren counties will be given the opportunity to earn a more accessible secondary education according to the board that was appointed back in December of 2014 by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
     The Education Consortium of the Upper Allegheny (ECUA) has been named the project executive that will oversee the construction and financial backing of the new college.  So far, the ECUA works with Gannon University to provide community college-like programs to students at a fraction of normal university costs.
     The new community college will be constructed somewhere in northwestern Pennsylvania and will offer a multitude of certificate programs, career training and two-year programs to prospective students in the Commonwealth.  Senators Scott Hutchinson, Bob Robbins and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati made the announcement all the way back in 2014 that this first Rural Regional College will focus entirely on Pennsylvania counties and the education of its residents.
     As the non-profit spearheading the initiative into its final couple years of planning, the ECUA is now tasked with developing curriculum plans off of its current associate's programs that have been run at Gannon since 2012.  With about 18 months to go before the new college's targeted opening for enrollment, the ECUA must also find a president and chief financial officer for the community college.
     Consortium President Duane Vicini is working to get adjunct professors mobilized to teach more courses through distance learning where prospective students from the nine counties will meet up in separate locations to learn through the modern technology of smart boards and distance learning online.
     "This is much different than the standard college," said Vicini.  "Accessibility was the key," according to Vicini, throughout the planning of the new college.
     The drafted proposals for the Rural Regional College of Northern Pennsylvania are still under review by its board of directors.  The plan going forward is to have a centralized office for the eventual president and chief financial officer of the college.
     Two associate's programs are being offered through Gannon University by the ECUA so far; students are learning interdisciplinary studies and business administration.  More of these types of programs are planned to be offered by the college and its growing programs.
     "Everything is still in draft form," reiterated Vicini.  Demographics and population trends are being researched for subcontractors to start working on a physical headquarters by December of this year.  Institutions in the nearby counties are also recommending professors to fill future positions to teach the type of students this college will appeal to: those with full-time jobs who require late-night classes and also ones that are still living at home.
     The ECUA was the initial test to see if this type of rural delivery model for secondary education could work.  After the consortium does its job setting up the new college, its role will be fulfilled.
     "Once the college is open, the ECUA goes away," said Vicini.
     The Rural Regional College of Northern Pennsylvania has a goal of offering secondary education opportunities close to the cost of a typical community college.  Rather than compete with local four-year universities, the new college plans to target a new demographic of student altogether.