Butler, PA – Butler County Community College’s back-to-back rankings as the No. 1 community college in Pennsylvania in consecutive Schools.com surveys are a testament to BC3’s consistency in excellence and its importance to higher education in eight counties, BC3 President Dr. Nick Neupauer said.
“This also speaks to the commitment from the entire BC3 team to provide affordable, accessible and above all, quality education to the students we serve,” said Neupauer, an Ellwood City native and a 1985 graduate of Lincoln High School.
Schools.com on Tuesday published only its Top Five rankings in its second survey since late 2015. Bucks County Community College was second; Montgomery County Community College, Blue Bell, third; Northampton County Area Community College, fourth; and the Community College of Beaver County fifth.
The Foster City, Calif., organization used a five-point scale in rating each of the 14 Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges’ members in categories that included percentage of students enrolled in distance education, total cost of attendance, student-to-faculty ratio and number of transfer agreements with other institutions in Pennsylvania.
“We are so happy to have that No. 1 ranking again in the community college space,” said Neupauer, whose 10-year presidency at a single institution exceeds that of any current leader among Pennsylvania’s community colleges, its 14 State System of Higher Education institutions and its four state-related schools – Lincoln, Penn State and Temple universities, and the University of Pittsburgh.
“But I think it speaks as well to our strength as an institution of higher education, not only in Butler County, but the region and the commonwealth.”
Nearly 34 percent of BC3’s credit students this fall are studying at off-campus locations in Brockway, Cranberry Township, Ford City, New Castle and Hermitage.
BC3’s continued recognition by Schools.com “really validates the fact that we are making such a tremendous impact on our main campus and in each of our off-campus locations,” Neupauer said. “With our regional approach to higher education, not only are we excelling on our main campus in Butler Township, but also at our off-campus locations and in the counties we serve.”
BC3 is a great asset to the region, said Sean Carroll, director of BC3 @ Lawrence Crossing in New Castle, “whether it is for the student who takes classes then goes right into the work force, the student who transfers on to receive his or her bachelor’s degree or someone taking advantage of the many Lifelong Learning classes that are offered.
“I truly believe that BC3 has earned the designation of No. 1 community college in the state by both its affordable and accessible education that it provides at its main campus in Butler, its off-campus sites and through online learning.”
Three-hundred BC3 students this fall are taking only distance education courses and are included in the 863 enrolled in at least one online class, according to Sharla Anke, assistant dean of institutional research. More than 11 percent of credit hours pursued by BC3 students are from online classes, Anke added.
BC3 offers 102 Internet classes, a 100 percent-online associate of applied science degree in business management, and four certificates, said Ann McCandless, BC3’s dean of educational technology. McCandless announced in February BC3’s acceptance into the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, which authorized the college to offer online courses to students in the organization’s 48 member states and Washington, D.C.
The college in 2016 launched its online Fast Track courses, held consecutively throughout traditional semesters and in which students can earn at least three credits in five weeks. A No. 13 ranking among 117 Pennsylvania schools in distance education by OnlineColleges.com followed.
Friends at other schools face overwhelming debt, BC3 @ Lawrence Crossing student says
Current annual tuition and fees for Butler County students pursuing 30 credits is $4,800, according to Julianne Louttit, director of financial aid. Forty-four percent of BC3 students received a Pell grant in the 2016-17 academic year, according to Becky Smith, BC3’s assistant director of financial aid, and 75 percent of BC3 students graduate debt-free.
That may include Janelle Fox, a sophomore early childhood education and special education major at BC3 @ Lawrence Crossing.
“A lot of my friends now are $30,000 in debt,” said Fox, of Ellwood City, who said she expects to graduate from BC3 debt-free. “I could not imagine trying to start my career with all of that debt in front of me.”
Fox also said she “loves” that BC3 students don’t have to pay for what she calls “major fluff fees.”
“Like parking,” she said. “Parking is free. At other schools it is not like that. At other schools you pay $25 to $100 just for a parking spot.”
Tuition at BC3 is the lowest among 24 colleges and universities in Western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Business Times reported in January. Additionally, the BC3 Education Foundation will award more than $200,000 in scholarships this year.
Its affordable tuition and its second-place rating for Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center rates combined to put BC3 “at the head of our list,” Schools.com reported.
BC3’s 324 outgoing transfer agreements with Pennsylvania institutions are the second-most among the state’s 14 community colleges, trailing only Harrisburg Area Community College with its 339, said Dr. Joshua Novak, BC3’s dean of student development.
Small classes have huge advantage, BC3 vice president says.
Schools.com also cited “comfortable classes” at BC3, where the student-to-faculty ratio fluctuates between 18:1 and 17:1, Anke said.
“Average class size is often linked to increased student engagement — smaller can be more conducive to retention and graduation,” Schools.com reported. “Small class sizes can allow faculty to provide students with increased individual and small group attention.”
Small class sizes contribute to the quality of teaching and overall learning experience for BC3 students, said Dr. Belinda Richardson, BC3’s vice president for academic affairs, and provide increased opportunities for students to interact with their professors and with one another.
“Students are encouraged to ask questions and participate in discussions,” Richardson said. “Professors are more accessible to students and able to connect with them in an environment that cultivates academic success.”
“I think our students do appreciate the smaller class sizes,” he said, “especially those who have gone on to other schools with larger class sizes.”
Her largest class at BC3 @ Lawrence Crossing has 15 students, Fox said.
“I really like the smaller class sizes,” the Lincoln High graduate said. “They allow you to make a closer connection with your teacher and with your peers. If you went to a larger school, you wouldn’t have that connection. And the friends I have talked to from larger schools say that they don’t have that connection.”
That connection, she said, benefits her and her classmates.
“I think it is a lot better academically because you have that closer rapport,” Fox said. “And you can have a closer bond with the students in your field. I have a group of education majors and we all get together and help each other with our homework or any questions we have. It is also easier to talk to your teachers about your questions.”
BC3’s back-to-back rankings as the No. 1 community college in Pennsylvania come during in a year in which its chapter of Phi Theta Kappa achieved a five-star status, the highest possible rating in the prestigious international academic honor society; and in which it graduated its largest class of the century with 596 students.
The college in 2017 was also selected for the fifth consecutive year as a Military Friendly institution by Victory Media, and in September received its third $1 million commitment in 38 months, one that will benefit a registered nursing program whose 2017 graduates’ success rate in passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses was 96 percent. That exceeds the state average of 84 percent, according to Patricia Annear, BC3’s dean of nursing and allied health.
BC3’s women’s basketball, softball, golf and volleyball squads in 2017 were No. 1 in Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference post-season tournaments.
The other nine members of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges are the Community College of Allegheny County, Delaware County Community College, Harrisburg Area Community College, Lehigh-Carbon Community College, Luzerne County Community College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, the Community College of Philadelphia, Reading Area Community College and Westmoreland County Community College.