Recent articles in the Washington Monthly (September/October 2018) and the Detroit Free Press (October 2019) have raised awareness about “education deserts” that exist across rural America.
Northern Pennsylvania is no stranger to these “deserts” as the region across the Northern Tier from Erie in the West to the Scranton/New York border in the East is largely devoid of Higher Education opportunities other than the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford campus and Mansfield University in Tioga County. A further look at the map shows that most educational opportunities are near or south of Route 80, such as Williamsport’s Penn College of Technology. In brief, the region is historically underserved by higher education and in particular affordable and accessible education.
The Northern Pennsylvania Regional College is a response to this unserved, underserved, and in some cases never served area. Through a model that brings real-time instruction using technology, the NPRC provides classroom experiences without requiring students to move out of their communities. Other states have adopted varying models of site-based education that brings students into college centers or facilities similar to PA’s Community Education Centers where post-secondary education is provided without requiring extensive travel. The NPRC model, as currently configured, provides educational opportunities to everyone in the nine-county region within a 15 mile radius. Cameron, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Potter, Warren, and Venango counties are all served by 28 instructional sites located in schools, libraries, community education centers and other facilities convenient to area learners. NPRC is not an “online college”, nor is it “TV based”, or even “distance learning” in the traditional use of that term. Teaching is done in real-time with classroom interaction between students and faculty during the established class time. This classroom requirement imposes a sort of discipline on students to be on time, to be prepared, and to have done their reading or homework for that class. Most online education offered by national colleges and universities is “asynchronous”, in other words not in real time and not in a classroom setting. Televised courses are passive and do not permit for interaction, however taped or recorded material is archived and accessible students who must miss a class or need to review a lecture to reinforce their learning.
NPRC, in meeting these needs, also serves as a “gifted and talented” program for smaller school districts that do not have sufficient students or resources for such programs. NPRC classes are college classes, taught by college faculty and often in an environment where students of differing backgrounds and experience enrich one another through sharing. Older students, returning adults, or non-traditional learners provide needed context for their younger classmates while younger “digital natives” often provide assistance in use of social media or accessing data and information using technology.
Currently NPRC offers five associates degree programs in majors that match identified needs in the region from the college’s initial plan. Initially in partnership with Gannon University, NPRC has offered programs in liberal/interdisciplinary studies (designed for transfer to four year institutions), Business Administration (for management employment or continuing to a bachelors degree), Early Childhood Education/Early Intervention for employment in the growing early childhood field, and Criminal Justice leading to employment in law enforcement, social services, corrections and related areas, and Social Sciences leading to transfer or work in areas requiring broad knowledge and information seeking skills.
As a public two-year college in the community college model, NPRC is also heavily engaged in Workforce Development activities and is currently working on advanced technology degree programs that apply to regional needs in the gas and oil, powdered metal, and manufacturing industries. Workforce development programs include short-term certifications such as Commercial Truck Driving (CDL), EMS/EMT training for first responders, Healthcare Basics, Communication Linework, Industrial Electricity, and Powder Metal.
As an affordable and accessible institution, NPRC welcomes students who “have some college, no degree” as our talented Student Success Specialists can work with students and help them make the most of the prior learning they bring to the table. Offerings from NPRC will continue to expand as the college grows and gains momentum.
NPRC was approved as a degree granting institution by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in May of 2019 and is now in the pre-candidacy process for regional accreditation, a process any new institution must follow to gain full accreditation.
NPRC is proud to serve Northern Pennsylvania with programs that are affordable, accessible, and definitely achieveable!
(Dr. Joseph T. Nairn is the founding president of the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College.)