Expansion of the Treasure Coast

Kelly Tyko

FAU‘s northernmost campus in Port St. Lucie used to be a little pink building with only four classrooms. Classes had to be held in rented-out conference rooms at a local baseball stadium, and students had to use an elementary school’s computer lab.

That’s all changed for the Treasure Coast Campus.

This semester, a brand-new campus with Indian River Community College (IRCC) is the focus and the little pink building has become a supplement. It’s being remodeled to become a Barnes and Nobles bookstore, an art lab, and a classroom or two.

When classes began on January 7, students, faculty and staff walked through a new campus several times bigger than their old single pink building. The campus includes three new buildings with a total of 105,000 square feet, new trees, new computers, and room to grow for new owls.

But what’s more important than the new material things of the campus is that it brings new hope to residents of the Treasure Coast, University officials said.

IRCC President Edwin Massey spoke of this hope at the campus’s dedication on Jan. 15: “This is a day where all Treasure Coast residents can finally get a four-year degree without leaving home. This campus is testament to our commitment on the Treasure Coast and signifies one more step in providing a seamless system of education for kindergarten to graduate level of education for residents of the Treasure Coast.

“By staying here, our students will form and strengthen their roots within this community,” Massey said.

And there are other benefits provided by having a university in town.

“By providing opportunities for higher education in our community we are enhancing our economy and adding highly skilled professionals to the work force,” said Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, who helped secure state money for the joint Indian River Community College and Florida Atlantic University campus.

“The children in our community will grow up to be our doctors, our teachers and our business men and women. Today, we have achieved a milestone and secured the success of our children. It is our turn for the Treasure Coast to thrive,” Pruitt said at the dedication. “We don’t need a banner on a University saying Port St. Lucie University. I’m very proud that our banner is Florida Atlantic.”

FAU President Anthony Catanese said that success would be for everyone under the partnership – even jobs in the area will intensify.

“Higher education is the key to economic development,” Catanese said. “Students can stay here, and they can prosper. Education is the way we are going to improve as people.”

Symbols of partnership – What this really means

To student Alice McVay, the new campus provides a “natural progression” from IRCC to FAU because of the state’s two-plus-two idea (see box for more information).

McVay, who’s also the Student Government governor for the Treasure Coast Campus, thinks the new campus has increased interactions between all the students. The main reason for that might be that “the FAU students and the IRCC students can’t tell each other apart,” McVay said.

Massey explained that not being divided is part of the structure. He said, “The joint campus allows students to seamlessly pass from one school to another.”

Grace Williams is one of those students.

Williams, who is also the campus’s senate speaker, started out as an IRCC student and made that “natural” and “seamless” progression that McVay and Massey talk about.

And when Williams finishes her baccalaureate degree next May, she’s not going to hang her book bag up. “I’m planning on also getting my master’s degree from FAU.”

Both Williams and McVay have lived in Port St. Lucie for most of their lives. Both are nontraditional students with families and both of them couldn’t receive degrees without FAU‘s satellite campus — the Treasure Coast Campus is 80 miles north of the Boca Raton Campus.

These reasons are fundamental to FAU‘s mission of access of opportunity and also what community colleges are all about.

Massey explained this using the structures of the buildings: “The archway symbolizes the entire philosophy of community colleges in America, which is to make knowledge available to all who seek it. When our students pass through our large arches, they will pass from one building to another but they will really be surpassing the barriers and the obstacles of the past as they leap into the province of the future.”

The prospect of the future has one 12-year-old who’s ready to sign up for FAU – McVay’s daughter.

“Before with the other campus, she was kind of hesitant to agree with it. But I’ve taken her to the Boca Campus and now with seeing this campus, I think she wouldn’t mind going to FAU. Of course, the football program has helped too,” McVay said.

Growing even larger?

When IRCC opened in Port St. Lucie, students could take general education classes for an associate’s degree or specialized classes, including accounting and child development. About 2,000 students took classes there in 1992. During 2001, about 7,000 students attended.

For years, FAU used a few rooms at IRCC‘s main campus in Fort Pierce, attracting only about 80 students a year until moving to its own building in St. Lucie West in 1995, when enrollment shot to about 350. The school quickly outgrew its single building and one in a shopping plaza nearby. In the fall of 2001, 700 students enrolled.

And even with all the new space that’s up at the Treasure Coast Campus, the schools expect they’ll need even more space in a few years. The second phase of the joint campus is planned and needs only money to move forward, said Jerry Lafferty, vice president for the Treasure Coast Campus.

The University has requested about $20 million from the legislature this year. If it is granted, Lafferty expects construction to begin late this year and the new buildings to open in early 2004.

Increasing building space isn’t the only thing planned for the campus — an enlargement of programs is also being discussed.

Currently there are more than a dozen “two-plus-two” programs being offered in education, nursing, social work, criminal justice, business, and accounting. New programs are planned in information technology, health administration, and other areas specific to what’s most needed in the area.

What’s most needed in the Treasure Coast area might be another joint FAU and IRCC campus. Altogether IRCC has five campuses, with other sites in Fort Pierce, Okeechobee, Stuart, and Vero Beach.

President Catanese said at the dedication that, “We might want to do this partnership with IRCC again. We might add another campus in Vero Beach.”

Sidebar: 2+2 – Our other partners

Partnerships with community colleges are not a new thing for FAU. Besides IRCC, FAU has three other joint campuses.

In the south, at both the Davie and Fort Lauderdale Campuses, there’s Broward Community College (BCC). On the Boca Raton Campus, there’s Palm Beach Community College (PBCC).

How the state’s two-plus-two plan equals a four-year degree is: Students go to a community college for their first two years, where they get their associates of arts degree. They then transfer to a university where they complete their bachelor’s degree.

Under this plan, all students who complete their first two years at a Florida community college are guaranteed automatic entry to FAU, UF, or the like.

In addition, the two-plus-two allows students to take the same courses for less money with smaller class sizes.