Juggling is a skill Ashley Hightower has perfected. But this type of juggling does not involve tennis balls, but rather school, work and friends.
Hightower, a Columbia native, spends 22 hours a week working as a receptionist at a salon while taking 13 hours of college credit. Attending Moberly Area Community College’s Columbia Higher Education Center has complemented her busy lifestyle and work schedule.
“I like everything about the Columbia campus,” Hightower said. “It’s more convenient for me. I can take all the classes I need and don’t have to commute. It has helped me out a lot with my schedule.”
Hightower is not alone. The Columbia branch of Moberly Area Community College has 813 students enrolled this semester, roughly two-thirds the size of the main branch in Moberly and the college’s largest off-campus program.
In the past year, the Columbia campus has seen a 34 percent increase in the number of credit hours students are taking and now offers 46 classes, 17 of them new. Among the new courses are biology, human anatomy, foundations of chemistry and African-American history.
“We see more and more students who have started college elsewhere, but because of scheduling problems have decided to take classes at the Columbia location,” said math instructor Mary Fine, who has taught at the Columbia branch since it opened in the fall of 2000. Hightower benefits from the variety of class times and media offered at the Columbia location.
“I am taking three night classes, one online class and one day class,” she said. “I usually work in the mornings, so my school schedule is perfect for me.”
Students attending the Columbia branch have the same benefits as the students at the main campus, including access to the Kate Stamper Wilhite Library, Greyhound basketball games and student organizations like the Multicultural Student Club and the international honor society, Phi Theta Kappa.
Another student, Katie Rader, said she values the small classes and positive student-teacher relationships.
“(Teachers) are really nice and helpful, and I feel I get more attention than if I was at a larger university,” Rader said. “It is also really convenient because of my work schedule. I have more options of when I can take classes.”
In October, the Columbia site was approved to offer an associate of arts degree, transferable to four-year colleges and universities.
“I am working on my associate’s degree and chose to go to a community college because I didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” Hightower said. “This way, it is more affordable, and I can transfer all my credits when I am done.”
Before the Columbia branch was approved, students seeking to earn the associate’s degree had to take classes at the Moberly site and split their time between the campuses.
“Since many of our students are working, not having to add a 30-minute commute makes a big difference,” said Meghan Holleran, director of the Columbia site. “They now can potentially take all their courses here in town.”
Because of its growth, the Columbia branch is now a split campus, offering 17 classes in the E.S. Pillsbury Science Center of Stephens College.
“We have outgrown our space here (at Community United Methodist Church) and now rent five classrooms with lab space at Stephens,” Holleran said.