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    Junior grows into expanded college role

    Officials and students at St. Petersburg College's Tarpon Springs campus are getting used to its changing status.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 19, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Junior has been taken off almost all the signs at the St. Petersburg College Tarpon Springs campus, but the name-change still requires some adjustments.

    Nick Billiris, the longtime provost at the Tarpon Springs campus, called it St. Petersburg Junior College Thursday and didn't immediately realize he had used the wrong name.

    "Bite my tongue," he said to himself.

    As the school year begins Monday, the campus is going through some big changes. Like other campuses of SPC, the school is making a move toward offering four-year degrees. Billiris and others at the school also are adjusting to new course offerings, more full-time students and a big art center that will open mid-year.

    The college plans to begin offering four-year degrees in teaching, nursing and some high-technology fields at its Tarpon Springs campus. The first class of juniors and seniors will be admitted in August 2002.

    Students now starting their second year at the school will be able to go straight into the junior and senior years of these programs, Billiris said. Some students still will choose to transfer, but he predicted that many will stay at SPC.

    "You save on travel, you save on room and board, you save on tuition," he said.

    The 31-year-old Tarpon Springs school is seeing a boost in enrollment in all areas. Part-time enrollment is up from 1,484 students in 1999 and 1,565 last year to 1,829 this year. Full-time enrollment was 702 in 1999, 692 last year and 900 this year.

    Overall, the enrollment has increased 20 percent since last year and about 25 percent over two years ago.

    Billiris said he is encouraged by the increases in the number of full-time students at the commuter school.

    "It begins to build a sense of community, when you don't have students coming in like they're going to a Burger King drive-through," he said.

    Billiris predicted the numbers will continue to grow rapidly, in part because of the change in perception brought on by the school's name change. Even though the school always has offered a quality education, he said, some people automatically view a college as having more prestige than a junior college.

    "People didn't like the name "junior,' " he said. "Now, when (students) come up, they can feel a sense of dignity."

    The Tarpon Springs campus is preparing for another major addition. This winter, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art will open and become one of the major art centers in the area.

    Tarpon Springs abstract artist Allen Leepa and his wife, Isabelle, gave the college $2.15-million in 1996, along with thousands of pieces of art that will make up the collection at the museum.

    Most of the paintings, sketches and sculptures were created by Leepa; his stepfather, mid-20th century artist Abraham Rattner; and Leepa's mother, Esther Gentle Rattner. The collection also includes works by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Georges Rouault and Henry Moore.

    Billiris hopes the scholastic and non-scholastic endeavors will continue to draw students from the surrounding cities, particularly the high-growth areas of North Pinellas and South Pasco.

    As he registered for classes last week, Jerry Bridge, 21, said he initially planned to go to the school for two years, then transfer out. But the Holiday resident, who is taking computer courses at SPC starting Monday, said he may change his plans now that the school will offer a four-year computer degree.

    "It would be nice to stay in the area," Bridge said.

    For other students, the change will make little difference. Tim King, 20, of Palm Harbor, probably will transfer after two years.

    "I'm just getting all my math done here, because those are some of the most expensive classes" at other schools, said King, who will study engineering.

    Mike Kryk, 28, of Palm Harbor, said the name change and the offering of four-year degrees does not matter to him.

    "It's always been a good school," he said.

    -- Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182.

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