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Local Colleges Expanding in Unique Ways

Oct 01, 2016 02:07PM ● Published by Jill Cueni Cohen

Chatham University, Eden Hall Campus

Gallery: Local Colleges Expanding in Unique Ways [21 Images] Click any image to expand.

News of a current decline in high school graduates and less college enrollment has been widely reported, but two local colleges—Chatham University and La Roche College—are experiencing growth both on and off-campus. 

Dean Howard Ishiyama, vice president for academic affairs at La Roche, credits the school’s close proximity to the newly built McCandless Crossing and a locally affluent population as contributing to its rising enrollment. “People in the North Hills care about education, and the development we have going on around the college is positive for us,” he said, adding that the school has experienced overall enrollment growth in six out of the past seven years. “That's not the norm out there, especially in the Pittsburgh area and the entire Northeast; other schools will tell you there is a general decline in the total number of high school graduates.”

Another reason for La Roche’s growth is the way they recruit an incredibly diverse student body. “We recruit traditional students, but we also draw transfer students, adult learners, graduate and international students,” said Ishiyama, noting that students come from the North Hills, Pennsylvania, other states across the nation, and 36 different countries. “About one-fifth of our student population is from other countries.”

Teaching students an understanding of the world and global citizenship is the underlying goal at La Roche, just as it is at Chatham University. Established in 1869, Chatham’s Shadyside campus is one of the oldest, most historically rooted schools in the Pittsburgh area. A recent donation of a 388-acre plot of land in Richland, PA, has led to Chatham’s new Falk School of Sustainability & Environment, making the already well-known school a trail-blazer on the international education scene.

“Our footprint makes us the largest university in terms of square footage in Allegheny County,” said Executive Director and Dean of the Eden Hall Campus Lou Anne Caligiuri, noting that Chatham opened up as a residential campus for the first time in the fall of 2015. Prior to that, there were only a few courses available at Eden Hall. 

“We're the first campus in the world built from the ground up as fully sustainable,” said Caligiuri, adding that Eden Hall is the leading example for local and international universities and institutions. In addition to the built environment, the campus encompasses an organic farm and a forest, creating a true model for a sustainable living-learning laboratory.  

"The Falk School of Sustainability is about preparing students to deal with future issues, understand sustainability, and be change-agents within that arena,” said Caligiuri. “We offer undergrad and graduate programs in sustainability and food studies through the Falk School.”

Students at Eden Hall are trained in sustainable technologies and methods to model new approaches in five key areas: water, food and sustainable agriculture, energy and climate, design and planning, and community and health. Through classroom and out-of-classroom experiences, students learn about what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle. 

“We are working to produce more energy than what we consume, and we’re managing water and waste on-site until we eventually achieve complete carbon neutrality,” said Caligiuri, explaining that students and faculty will develop and trial next-generation practices along with becoming a community resource. “We do K-12 programs all year long, have partnerships with lots of schools, host hundreds of students during the summer and help educators to develop programs appropriate for students.”

According to Ishiyama, the increase in students at La Roche has not yet affected their classroom capacity, though this is likely to change in the future. “Until then, we've been efficient at managing classroom schedules and have also added online courses,” he said, adding that classes are often filled most of the day. “We support online majors, which helps with classroom space, and we also offer blended courses, where professors don't meet with students every class session. It's a creative way to use infrastructure and also appeal to students and people who want to pursue an educational goal in addition to leading an already busy life.”

La Roche is also growing in terms of adding new areas of study. “We're seeing a trend in student interest that aligns with the physical sciences, the hard sciences, health sciences and technology,” said Ishiyama, noting that there are new degrees offered in Nursing Anesthesiology, Information Systems, and Exercise and Sport Science.

La Roche accepts up to 90 credits in transfer from community colleges and recently opened an off-site location at Butler County Community College, which allows even more growth. “It’s the combination of using their classes and our classes,” said Ishiyama. “Because it's a less expensive option, we’ve made a great effort to develop strong partnerships with the community college systems near Allegheny County.”

Eden Hall’s outreach has already affected youngsters from all over the tristate area and beyond. “We’ve had touching comments from teachers and youth about what it's meant for them already,” said Caligiuri. “When students are here, they're engaged and creative and are given hands-on experiences. It's not your traditional outreach, but it's designed to be supportive of a school’s educational goals. We're trying to find ways that educators can learn more about the principles of sustainability to inspire young people to be committed and concerned about the future and living sustainably.”

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