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Skagit Valley College gets a new start, new administrator

Tucked in the far corner of Ken’s Corner Shopping Center, the South Whidbey “campus” of Skagit Valley College may look any thing but collegial. But inside its end of the mall are classrooms full of students pursuing a number educational opportunities.

The campus is under new leadership this year: In August 2004, former administrator Barbara Schneeman left her position as administrator of the South Whidbey campus. She has been replaced by Rick Stewart. And, with the arrival of a new administrator, office hours have been extended to keep the campus open six days a week.

It’s also one of the best places in the Skagit Valley College system to take a computer class, despite the campus’ humble appearance. Though the classrooms in the mall are modest in size, the entire campus was updated in September with a fresh new look and brand new computers.

According to Mick Donahoe, vice-president of the college, “it’s the most up-to-date computer lab” at the multi-campus college. Skagit Valley College’s main campus is located in Mount Vernon with satellite centers in Oak Harbor, South Whidbey and and San Juan Island.

One of the most popular programs over the years at South Whidbey are the computer technology and science courses.

“There is a new outlook and new energy on the campus,” Donahoe said recently.

The campus doesn’t consist of ivy-covered brick buildings surrounded by large maple trees. It doesn’t boast a basketball team for students to rally behind, but it does offer a surprising number of courses in higher education. Whether students want to earn college credits to transfer to a university, a two-year college or technical degree, finish high school, or become re-certified as a paraeducator, most — if not all — of this can be accomplished right on Whidbey Island.

The South Whidbey Center offers a number of educational services including advising, registration, library services, training classes, and community service classes. The core classes — English, math and public speaking — are still the most popular at the South Whidbey site. The art program at the campus is popular senior citizen students.

In addition, 47 South Whidbey High School students are earning college credits before they graduate from high school in a program called Running Start. Campus administrator Stewart said he and the staff at the Ken’s Korner campus are proud of the program’s record.

“We’ve had a successful Running Start program for several years,” he said.

For 30 years, the South Whidbey site has been offering academic and senior citizen courses for students from 16 years old and up. Day, evening and on-line courses are offered throughout the year.

This year, 12 instructors and 310 students call the campus their school. The average age of students on South Whidbey is the mid-20s. The student population in Oak Harbor is much older and 70 percent are women earning degrees in nursing, computer technology and education, said Donahoe. Like other colleges, Skagit Valley College faces fluctuating enrollment caused by the trend of on-line courses. and the economy.

Donahoe said that when the economy is good, people go back to work; when it’s poor, people attend college for retraining.

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