Tallahassee Community College Celebrates 50 Years of Dreamers
TCC Maintains Commitment to Affordable, Accessible Higher Ed
Twenty-five Calculus II students watch intently and jot down equations as instructor Lori Prudom explains the steps to finding a derivative.
An inmate in a Quincy prison studies to earn his GED.
Contemplating a “second act” career, a baby boomer takes a free online course in health information and management.
A woman carefully matches flash cards with some of the 500 or so implements she will learn about during her 18-month course of study to become a surgical technologist.
A man tends to a cage full of baby oysters he’s just pulled out of Franklin County waters, hoping to make a living “farming” the tasty bivalves.
Aspiring actors gather around a sound and light board to learn the “recipe” for creating the technical aspects of a stage production.
Different goals. Different dreams. Different places. Different walks of life.
But one thing they have in common is that all attend Tallahassee Community College.
Fifty years after TCC began serving Leon, Wakulla and Gadsden counties, just about the only thing that hasn’t changed about the school is its commitment to affordable, accessible higher education for all. Today, TCC boasts 14,000 students, six campuses, a 75 percent success rate for AA degree students moving on to universities, exceptional passing rates for graduates of its professional education programs, a burgeoning commitment to local workforce development and a plethora of awards and accolades for the college, its students and faculty.
“Coming up on the 50th (anniversary) you reflect, like with a birthday. You take measure of where you are in a way that you do differently than if this was just another year,” said TCC’s president, Dr. Jim Murdaugh. “It’s a remarkable story. Everywhere I go in this community, the reputation of the college is strong. People say such amazing and kind things. It’s an exciting time. Is the college where I want it to be? Yes. Would I change things? Of course. Anybody who’s satisfied needs to move out of this office. Your job is to push and to continue to look for ways to improve what we do for students and how we meet the needs of our community. I’m happy where we are (and) excited with the plans that we have to do those things.”
A LOOK BACK
Who better to share a glance in TCC’s rearview than Dr. Monte S. Finkelstein, who has spent almost 35 years there as a history professor and dean of the Division of History and Social Sciences.
He started teaching as an adjunct professor in 1982 and became a full-time professor in 1984, but his first recollections of TCC date to 1968, when he arrived as an undergraduate at Florida State University and the college was rising from the remnants of Tallahassee’s first airport, Dale Mabry Field. “In 1968, this was the outskirts of town. This was the frontier,” he recalled. “They must have had a bus service, but I don’t know how people got here. I’m sure there were buildings, but you didn’t come out here.”
Finkelstein would ultimately earn his doctorate degree from FSU and, after spending a year in Rome as a Fulbright Scholar, he returned to Tallahassee, with thoughts of writing a book and moving on to a career as a research historian. “Didn’t work. I was teaching here as an adjunct so when they offered me the job I jumped at it,” he said. “To be honest, when I came here, I didn’t expect to stay … but I did. I loved the teaching and I loved the students and I had a great time. I didn’t want to leave.”
Tallahassee Junior College opens to serve students from Gadsden, Leon and Wakulla counties.
courtesy Tallahassee Community College
At the time, the campus was still relatively small.
“We had about 6,500 students, there were maybe two or three buildings. “This half of the campus,” he said from his office in the History and Social Sciences building, “didn’t exist.” He shared a tiny office — and a phone — with three others, another history teacher and two math teachers. “It was actually a good setup because you got a lot of interaction with your colleagues. Nowadays you don’t have that. You’re over here, math/science is all the way over there. It’s a real schlep to go from one end of the campus to another.”
There was little diversity when Finkelstein arrived.
“It was white kids,” he said. “Now we’re about 35 percent minority students (and) we have international students” representing 79 different countries.
During his tenure, Finkelstein worked under four of TCC’s six presidents and each one, he said, left his mark on the campus.
“Every time we had a new president, there was a sea change,” the historian remarked. “I think every president (brought) his own little stamp. They all respected academics, that’s the one thing I can tell you. Dr. Hinson and Dr. Wetherell, they were into putting up buildings, building up the campus, getting us a more diverse and larger student body. Dr. Hinson … he respected faculty. With Dr. Wetherell, there was a distinct change. He started focusing on workforce and the AS degree. Bill Law came in and established the Learning Commons. He was into diversity and really bringing some changes to faculty.”
Technology and the new breed of millennial student have also transformed the college, Finkelstein said.
“When I taught, we had a chalkboard (and) an overhead projector. Now, you’ve got to be ready to put videos up there. (Students) want PowerPoints. We’ve got smart boards; we have smart podiums.
“Nowadays we have collaborative group activities, interaction,” he said. “It used to be ‘the sage on the stage.’ You can (still) impart your knowledge, but you have to do it in such a way that you keep your kids’ attention and that’s, I think, the biggest change in the classroom.
“I’m such a dinosaur,” he said from his office, which actually is stuffed with dinosaur figures and a huge collection of Star Wars memorabilia. “You want to know what has changed between ’84 and now? In ’84, things changed so slowly. If we needed to do something on campus, we were all relaxed. Now,” he said, snapping his fingers, “that fast, things change on the campus. We pick up a new initiative now, we run with it (and) we keep picking up new initiatives. We work at the speed of light around here sometimes.”
ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY
A point of pride for Murdaugh is TCC’s policy of accepting anybody who has a high school diploma or GED, and its commitment to make a college education within the financial reach of all.
When asked if TCC is actually required to accept students who might have had marginal academic careers, Murdaugh replied, “That’s an interesting question. Whether we have to or not, we take ’em. We’ve described it as part of our DNA.”
One of the newest members of TCC’s leadership team need look no further than her own experiences — personal and professional — to understand how personal attention and support can launch a person out of poverty. Dr. Feleccia Moore-Davis, who became TCC’s provost and vice president of academic affairs last August, grew up poor in Mobile, Alabama.
“My life would have been completely different if someone had not reached out and touched my life and brought me along,” she recalled. “My father would always tell me that I would go to college but he would never tell me how, so I’m looking at our circumstances and saying, ‘Yeah, right,’ to myself. Two teachers impacted my life greatly and took me literally by the hand — and sometimes they pulled me by the ear — to get me on the straight and narrow and give me a focus. Because I think when you get that focus, that dream that belongs to your father or your teacher becomes yours, and that’s where your journey actually starts.”
Moore-Davis worked at community colleges in suburban Houston as an instructor, dean and vice president for more than 20 years before coming to TCC.
“You literally see lives being transformed. The person that has that GED probably never saw themselves going to college — and we can make those dreams a reality for them. That’s what makes being in a community college a wonderful thing,” she said. “You know that’s not the only life you’re touching. You’re touching their children and their children’s children because you’re putting them on a course for success.”
In November 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott challenged the state’s colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees that would cost just $10,000. With tuition less than half the cost-per-credit-hour of Tallahassee’s two universities, Murdaugh said that goal is doable for TCC.
Even within Florida’s state college system, TCC’s $98.83-per-credit-hour tuition is one of the lowest and it hasn’t increased in five years. “We’re very proud of our affordability,” Murdaugh said.
That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the the road to success for all students is paved with academic bachelor’s degrees. With a laser-like focus on workforce education, the president suggests that four years of schooling isn’t the ideal path for many students.
“I believe college isn’t for everyone, but education is,” Murdaugh said. “People come here who’ve been told that the only way to a better life is through a degree and, quite frankly, I don’t believe that. I don’t think that serves our students well, and I don’t think it serves our employers well.”
What Murdaugh considers ideal are “stackable” credentials — everything from “microcredentials” that require only a few hours of study, to a work-related certificate, to a two-year AA or AS degree. “All of this stuff ought to count toward something. It shouldn’t be a certificate to nowhere,” he explained. “You can take that certificate and go to work. Later, if you wanted to come back and work on your degree, you’d get credit for that as part of your degree program.”
NOW IN THE NEWS
Starting in January, for the first time, TCC will offer its own four-year degree program leading to a bachelor of science in Nursing. In the past, TCC was training nurses who were awarded a two-year AS degree. Today, a BSN is becoming the preferred credential for nurses at local hospitals and other facilities. “A number of health care providers indicated to us that their demand for baccalaureate-prepared nurses isn’t being met by FSU or FAMU or other providers,” Murdaugh explained. Even though there are BSN programs at the two universities, “students who come here to FSU and FAMU come from other communities, and many of them go home when they graduate.” TCC anticipates many of the program’s first enrollees will be working nurses seeking to upgrade their AS degrees.
Despite the excitement of a newly minted four-year nursing degree, Murdaugh is in no hurry to expand TCC’S bachelor’s degree offerings — unlike most of the other 28 institutions comprising the Florida College System. As far as he’s concerned, FSU, FAMU and the college’s four university partners get first dibs. “(There are) no additional four-year degree programs that we are actively talking about, and the only way we will consider them is if the provosts from the three institutions meet and talk about a demonstrated need in our community,” he said. “(If) the other institutions either cannot meet the need or they don’t want to, then we will step in. We want to be not the first choice but the last choice with regard to four-year degrees.”
Also in the works is a reimagining of what used to be the Brogan Museum building at downtown’s Kleman Plaza. (As part of a three-way agreement with the City of Tallahassee and Leon County Schools, TCC holds a long-term lease on the property.) Part of the first floor is already occupied by the glass-walled studios of WTXL-TV. Below the street level, the college has rooms for conferences, training and events, and envisions turnkey business cubicles and offices for lease in the future.
The building’s top floor is home to the new Institute for Nonprofit Innovation and Excellence (INIE). TCC took a lead role in creating INIE and funds its executive director position. The center’s mission is to provide a training center and resources to local charitable organizations and so far, said Moore, more than 80 of the area’s 600 nonprofits have signed on as members.
“I have a passion for nonprofits,” Murdaugh said when the center was launched in June 2014. “They are a vastly underappreciated and underrepresented component of local economic growth, and I believe you cannot have a vibrant economy without them.”
As for the second-floor space? “We’re … not putting the pressure on what that space will be because we believe if we put the other things in, it will automatically attract” the right tenant, said Moore.
TCC is tasked with serving Wakulla and Gadsden counties in addition to Leon and has broken ground on two major bricks-and-mortar projects there.
TCC currently operates the TCC Wakulla Center, offering basic college classes more conveniently located for local residents in Crawfordville. But an even more ambitious project is also underway — the Wakulla Environmental Institute.
While programs have been in operation for the past few years, a WEI facility is set to open in January. Its focus is offering environmentally focused degrees and certificate programs including programs in environmental science technology, hospitality and tourism, aquaculture management and agribusiness.
One of its high-profile offerings is oyster aquaculture. The first class of nine students is now producing its first harvests of farmed oysters, the second class is about to begin and the program has a six-year waiting list.
“I’ve eaten the oysters, and they’re remarkable,” said Murdaugh. “The oyster aquaculture effort down there is a new industry, and it’s going to change the economy of Wakulla County. That’s our goal — to make Wakulla a world-class destination for ecotourism.”
The goal in Gadsden County, the president said, “is to create programs that move people out of poverty.”
The new Gadsden Center opens in January. It will house programs currently being offered at The Quincy House, including GED preparation and English instruction for speakers of other languages, a computer lab for the community, and after-school and summer programs school-aged children.
“TCC has had a physical presence in Gadsden County for a decade, but this new facility will be built to fit the types of programs we want to offer, so it will help us better serve the community, especially as far as job training,” Eugene Lamb, a TCC board member and Gadsden County resident, said when ground was broken on the project in November 2014.
The first job training to be offered there will relate to HVAC installation and repair, one of the top 10 job needs in the area, said Heather Mitchell, TCC’s vice president for resource development.
Although its name isn’t on the building, TCC also operates the Florida Public Safety Institute, also located in Gadsden County. On its nearly 1,500-acre campus, you’ll find training for law enforcement, probation corrections officers and firefighters, as well as training for state law enforcement agencies and advanced and other specialized training.
While some might fret about the workforce issues taking away from the purpose of a community college, “That’s not the case,” Murdaugh said. “I don’t think you have to diminish one part of the operation to grow another.
“When I describe the where we’re going (and) broadening, the one thing I want to make sure I emphasize is that we are not deviating from our core mission, of producing associate of arts degrees that send people on to higher education,” he continued. “That’s our core mission and we will continue to invest heavily in it. We celebrate it. We do it well. This is an expansion and an addition to that effort.”