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OWCC Accredited as Bachelor's Degree Institution
NICEVILLE--- It is official. Okaloosa-Walton Community College is now accredited as a four-year college and will soon have to change its name.
The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accreditation board for most public colleges and universities in the southeast, recently approved OWCC's application for a "substantive change" to the school's mission -- thus elevating the 40-year-old public college from a Level One, "associate" degree status, to a Level Two institution -- one accredited to award baccalaureate degrees.
"Simply put, this is the biggest change in the mission and scope of this institution since OWJC was created 40 years ago," said Dr. Bob Richburg, OWCC president, in a press conference Thursday morning. "This will provide tremendous new opportunities for area citizens to obtain a four-year college degree."
The Florida Board of Education granted approval in April 2003 for OWCC to develop baccalaureate-level programs. The accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was the final step necessary for the college to begin bachelor's level instruction. The accreditation body reviewed OWCC's application, which in included O-W meeting stringent requirements for faculty, facilities, services and curriculum, prior to granting OWCC approval as a bachelor's degree-granting college.
A Bachelor of Applied Science degree program in Project and Acquisitions Management will begin at OWCC in August 2004. The college will begin to accept applications for admittance to the program on March 1.
"This bachelor's degree is vital for the economic growth of our region, because it will allow individuals to advance in their career field," noted Richburg. "It is a management degree with specialized tracks, so students may tailor a bachelor's program to meet their individual career goals."
Areas of specialization include: Acquisitions, Project Management, Process Improvement, Training and Development/Human Resources, and the option for a customized program of study. In addition to the degree's flexibility, Richburg noted that the college will continue its "open door" admissions policy for applicants to the new degree program. "This bachelor's program will be open to all qualified applicants," he said.
In addition to the bachelor's degree in management, OWCC will also begin a new Okaloosa County based Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in the fall, a joint program between O-W and the University of West Florida. Through an agreement approved by the Florida Board of Education, O-W will provide upper division instruction (3000 and 4000 level courses) for a majority of the clinical courses as well as for a portion of the theory classes. UWF will provide the remainder of the nursing instruction, all in Okaloosa County, and the university will also award the degree.
Admission to the bachelor's degree nursing program is currently limited to 24 applicants annually. The program is designed as an associate degree to bachelor's degree career ladder and is open only to applicants who currently hold a valid Registered Nursing license and have completed an accredited associate degree nursing program.
Regarding a name change for OWCC, Richburg said that due to a requirement by the accreditation board that "a college's name reflect the highest degree offered", OWCC's the new status as Level Two institution means the college will have to change its name. "We asked about possibly keeping our name and were told that we had to change," Richburg said.
Following the lead of the state's two largest community colleges, Miami-Dade College and St. Petersburg College, who have also been granted bachelor's degree status, OWCC officials will forward a recommendation to college trustees that the college be renamed. Trustees will act on the recommendation at their next board meeting on January 20. As a public institution, the name will then need approval by the Florida Legislature. College officials anticipate switching to a new name July 1.
"We are O-W, we're proud of who we are and the district we serve," said Richburg. "Our college faculty and staff recommended that we keep Okaloosa-Walton as part of the name and that's what we are recommending to the trustees."
Additionally, college officials anticipate action by the Florida Legislature in the spring legislative session to approve tuition rates for OWCC's upper division courses at a much lower level than the states universities or private colleges. "Our board of trustees takes pride in keeping O-W tuition rates at or near the lowest in Florida and we intend to do the same with the bachelor-degree-level programs," said Richburg. Current tuition for freshman and sophomore level courses at OWCC is $48.45 per credit hour.
A website with detailed information about the two degree programs has been established at www.owcc.edu/bachelor.
Dr. Jill White, OWCC Vice President for instruction, noted that the new bachelor's degree in Project and Acquisitions Management is designed to provide a career-ladder for students who have already completed an Associate degree, but that students may design a program of study for the degree as early as the freshman year if they have not yet obtained an Associate degree.
"Program content is designed to build on skills acquired in the workplace and coursework will be scheduled with the working student in mind courses will be offered in flexible, non-traditional format," White said. She noted the program is an especially desirable educational option for graduates of the Community College of the Air Force and for individuals transitioning from active duty military to the civilian workplace.
White said approximately 50 percent of the instruction will be offered as distance learning, with another 25 percent structured as "blended" classes -part traditional classroom and part nontraditional format. Classes will be available evenings, weekends and in concentrated "fast-track terms". Coursework will also incorporate internships, seminars, and other work-based learning activities designed to ensure students acquire the latest skills and content.
The new BSN program will capitalize on support from the local health care community and the existing expertise, facilities and academic resources of both OWCC and UWF. The entire program will be available locally through courses offered at the Niceville and Fort Walton Beach Campuses of OWCC, and clinical instruction conducted in local hospitals and health care facilities.