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Big changes approved for Alex Tech College

New mission, new name, same commitment to technical education.

Already a comprehensive college, Alexandria Technical College will now be able to offer the first two years of a liberal arts degree, providing students expanded opportunities to transfer to four-year institutions.

The changes were approved last week by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU)) Board of Trustees.

To reflect the new mission, the college has a new name - Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC).

Both changes take effect immediately.

The college will continue to offer technical and career programs that lead directly to jobs, emphasized Kevin Kopischke, ATCC president.

"Our niche is still technical education," Kopischke said in an interview with the newspaper Friday. "This gives us a marketing opportunity to get people into the college and share with them the careers that are available."

The board of trustees said the change, which has been in the works for a few years, makes sense for the college.

"Expanding the college's mission fits well with the board's strategic goal of providing more opportunities for Minnesotans to enter and complete post-secondary programs," said David Olson, the board chair.

Chancellor James H. McCormick said, "Alexandria has a solid history of providing excellent technical and career programs, which are critical for the state. But it is also important for the college to respond to a growing demand for a two-year liberal arts degree."

Kopischke said that the two-year transfer program means residents in this area can get a good start on a four-year degree at a reasonable cost. Alexandria's tuition rates generally fall in the lower one-third of the schools in the MnSCU system.

"We will continue to provide an array of technical and career programs that have a very strong job placement track record," Kopischke said. "The new mission will also allow expanded opportunity to students who are pursuing professional careers that require a baccalaureate degree."

The ATCC has had a strong history of matching the community's needs, dating back to the early 1960s with its founder, Vern Maack, Kopischke said.

The school began 50 years ago with three programs and 23 students.

Today, the college offers more than 50 programs that lead to certificate, diploma and degrees, which can be completed in two years or less.

Each year, the college serves about 3,900 students, Kopischke added.

Two key factors drove the decision to expand the college's mission, Kopischke said.

First, the community and the students are keenly interested in the liberal arts option. Kopischke noted that over the past three years, the college has, on average, about 600 students who are pursuing an associate in arts (AA) degree, which they would ultimately have to receive through another institution.

However, since they were undecided about which career to pursue, they were not eligible to receive financial aid while attending Alex Tech.

With the change, students pursuing the liberal arts degree at ATCC will now be able to qualify for financial aid, Kopische said.

This leads to the other reason for the change: More students pursuing a liberal arts degree will result in more students enrolling in the ATCC's technical programs, Kopischke said.

The liberal arts option also fits in nicely with the growing demand for online instruction, said Kopischke. The percentage of students taking online courses through the ATCC has grown 40 percent in the last year, he said.

The college's expanded mission will not result in tuition increases or additional staff, at least initially, said Kopischke.