ACC Hosts First December Commencement Ceremony to Keep Up with Student Growth
At the age of 43, Miguel Espitia will become the first member of his family to graduate college when he’s awarded his associate degree in graphic design from Austin Community College Friday.
“I graduated from high school in Oklahoma, spent 10 years in the Army and, as soon as I got out, I was trying to find my niche in the world,” Espitia said. “Now, I’m here at ACC and about to graduate. I never thought at 43, I would hit this high mark in my life, graduating with honors.”
In response to more students than ever applying to graduate in December, ACC will hold its first fall semester commencement ceremony Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Frank Erwin Center. More than 1,200 ACC students applied to graduate this fall semester, representing a 30 percent increase over last year and more than double since fall 2007.
“We’ve really been working to make students understand the value of graduation,” said Alexis Patterson Hanes, senior public information coordinator for ACC. “Adding a commencement ceremony gives them a chance to celebrate at the time they finish (their degree), when they’re feeling that momentum of all they’ve accomplished.”
Austin Community College, like many community colleges across the nation, experienced a high growth rate between 2008 and 2010 in correlation with the economic downturn, which could be affecting this year’s high degree of graduates.
“We definitely had some extraordinary growth in recent years,” Patterson Hanes said. “It’s hard to give an exact cause, but we saw a correlation during the hardest time of the recession and our enrollment.”
“I was really happy, because this was something I wanted to do but never had the money or time,” he said. “When I got laid off, it was the right time.”
Although ACC’s enrollment isn’t growing quite at the rate it was between 2008 and 2010, the number of students continues to rise, and with around 60,000 credit and noncredit students, the school is at capacity. Between 2007 and 2011, there was an especially high rate of growth among Hispanic and African American students, at 56 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
“That’s significant because often the fastest growing populations are the least likely to enroll in a college and come out with a degree,” Patterson Hanes said. “So we are targeting those populations to make sure they have the support they need.”
The effort seems to have worked for Espitia. He landed a full-time job two months before graduating at Granite Publications in Taylor, using his graphic design degree to create advertisements for the publishing group’s 21 Texas community newspapers. He said a portfolio class he took prepared him to look for a job.
“The (graphic design) professors are actually working in the field right now, so we’re learning from top designers and people who have their own business, people who really care,” he said. “When you create a design, they want it to be the best design.”
By 2018, 56 percent of all Texas jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Austin’s rapidly growing economy represent a host of job opportunities now and into the future, said Patterson Hanes, citing the planned UT medical school as an example of a future employer of ACC graduates.
“A significant portion of those jobs will be for people with associate degrees, and our health sciences departments awards those kind of degrees,” she said. “We work closely with employers in the area to make sure when our students go into the workforce, they have what those employers want.”To that end, ACC board members are now taking steps to expand and improve facilities, voting in December to move forward with work on a 2013 Bond proposal to fund a facilities improvement plan. In the meantime, construction on ACC’s Math Emporium, the first in a series of renovation projects to the now ACC-owned Highland Mall will begin in the spring.
These changes will allow the college to “address capacity issues and foster key programs that contribute to success and also focus on needs in the Austin workforce,” Patterson Hanes said, adding that the bottom line is “getting people in the door and getting them to their goal.”