KINGSPORT — Kingsport’s Academic Village has seen significant growth in its student population over the past five years, with enrollment increasing 127 percent since the fall of 2007, most notably with the advanced manufacturing and nursing programs.
Jeff McCord, vice president of Northeast State at Kingsport, recently provided this information along with an update on enrollment figures to the Kingsport Higher Education Commission — the oversight board for the academic village.
Conceived years ago and implemented in 2008, the Academic Village is a cluster of five higher education facilities in the Clay/Clinchfield/Market streets area of downtown with the prime partners being the city of Kingsport and Northeast State Community College.
According to McCord, the number of students attending Northeast State classes within the Academic Village has grown 127 percent from 753 in the fall of 2007 to 1,706 in the fall of 2012. If you include the other participating institutions, total enrollment stands at 2,081 students.
“Across the state in 2011-2012, enrollment at our peer community colleges went down 2 to 4 percent. NSCC overall stayed about flat, but Kingsport went up 11 percent,” McCord said. “We’re just getting started. There’ll be a boost with ETSU bringing students downtown and all that enrollment will build upon itself.”
The largest of the facilities in the academic village is the Kingsport Center for Higher Education — a multi-college center where students can take their first two years of courses through NSCC then continue on with one of the partnering colleges under the same roof, such as LMU, King College or the University of Tennessee.
Since opening in the fall of 2009, NSCC’s enrollment at the KCHE has grown 29 percent, from 717 students to 927. During the same time King has gone from 80 students to 281 while LMU has hovered around 100 students most years. UT was unable to provide its latest enrollment figures for the past two years.
McCord said enrollment at the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing — since opening three years ago — has increased from 145 students to 408, while enrollment at the Regional Center for Health Professions has more than tripled since 2008, growing from 138 students to 420.
The Regional Center for Automotive Programs just opened in the fall of 2012 with 56 students, while the Regional Center for Advanced Technology — the original facility in the academic village — no longer has classes and now houses support services for NSCC, industrial testing and GED classes.
During a recent meeting of the Kingsport Higher Education Commission, McCord and other members discussed the current capacity within the academic village and if expansion plans need to be considered.
“About another 300 to 400 students is what we could do (at the KCHE). RCAM is close to capacity and RCHP is getting pretty close as well,” McCord said. “Our growth is continuing, so where can we look for more physical space? That’s something the building committee of the commission will be looking at.”
East Tennessee State University recently announced plans to bring more than 60 courses to the academic village, first by leasing space in the RCAT building with future plans to lease space in a yet-to-be-determined location in the vicinity of the Academic Village. ETSU officials estimate about 670 students would be enrolled in its downtown courses next year.
The answer to the growth in student population could be met by adjusting the schedules of when classes are offered, since some buildings are busier in the day time while others are more busy at night.
Saturday courses could also be an option, officials said, and there’s always the possibility of a college or university purchasing the downtown post office — currently on the market — and converting it to classroom space, something city and education officials have said would be a good re-use of the building.
And, of course, Kingsport could always build another facility for higher education purposes. The city purchased property years ago within the Academic Village for this possibility, something the master plan also calls for if necessary.
“Given the nature of the timeframe for how long it takes to adequately plan for new space, it’s at that time where we probably ought to be looking,” said City Manager John Campbell. “I think one of the things will be to make sure you’re maximizing the present buildings, which is happening now. Then at some point in the near future the commission will take up the issue of how we provide additional spaces for classrooms.”