November 30, 2006

Fresh thinking in Medina:

Flexible programming to meet community needs
By Susan Louscher, director of the Medina County University Center

The University of Akron's Medina County University Center, now rising in the hills just south of Medina, will embrace fresh thinking in higher education by offering residents and employees a highly flexible curriculum to give them the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the region's economy. The center will offer both higher education and workforce development programs and will address a critical need for Ohio — our below-average rate of degree attainment.

The key to the Medina center is how closely it will be tied to the community. At the center, we will offer both general education courses and programs that mirror the county's business profile. Coursework will be clustered in the areas of polymers, healthcare, education, business and finance, emergency management and public safety, manufacturing and aerospace. Curriculum committees and advisory boards comprised of UA and Medina leaders and industry representatives will work continuously to ensure that programming is aligned with community needs.

In keeping with this innovative approach, our revenue-sharing initiative will reward our colleges that offer courses at the Medina center, making it an ideal location to experiment with new offerings.

The $8 million center is the result of five years of planning between UA and leaders in Medina County, with funding support from local, state and federal resources. Local business and civic leaders approached the University after a survey showed that 75 percent of Medina County employers viewed the lack of skilled workers there as a serious problem. Thirty-one percent of them said the lack of a suitable workforce was constraining their growth.

Since my arrival at the University in June, I have traveled the region talking to business and civic groups about the center. Often, I have found it easier to describe the center by talking about what it is not. For instance, it is not a branch campus in a traditional sense; the center is located in a technology park, where it will be able to feed off the research and development of industries in close proximity. Nor will it have a resident faculty; courses will be taught by faculty from UA and from other institutions while also drawing on the expertise of Medina industry leaders.

Faculty members teaching at the Medina center will use multiple delivery methods, including traditional classrooms, flexible technology labs, distance learning, Web-based instruction and on-site training for businesses. Already, the center is delivering courses for our new, noncredit polymer certification program at an off-site location. This new certificate was developed in partnership with Summit College, the College of Polymer Science and Engineering and Medina polymer companies.

Students will be able to take credit and noncredit coursework, in addition to specialized certificate programs. Classes will be offered six days a week.

Today, Medina County is the largest county in Ohio without a higher education facility. Next fall, that will change when the center opens and residents and employees will have access to higher education and workforce development programs right in their backyard.

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Medina County University Center
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