SPC Midtown campus could be shut down

July 2008

By Greg Lindberg

For Neighborhood News Bureau class at USF St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Offering higher-level education in an impoverished community is something a local college has prided itself on for several years. But the school could shut down its campus in this area, removing a vital piece of the neighboring community.

St. Petersburg College recently announced that its Midtown location at 1048 22nd St. S. in St. Petersburg might have to close its doors in the coming months. This comes as a result of budget cuts, a dramatic rise in online learning and because the school’s downtown campus is expanding.

Like all Florida state colleges, SPC has recently made cutbacks to its budget due to less money going toward state-funded education. Eliminating one of its smaller campuses and focusing instead on its larger facilities is something college president Carl Kuttler feels is the right thing to do.

“The question we are faced with is how to serve the community effectively,” he said. “We have to be efficient with what we do.”

Kuttler said the Midtown campus is less than two miles from SPC’s downtown campus at 244 Second Ave. N., which offers a wider range of courses and degree programs. The school also holds classes at its St. Pete/Gibbs campus on Fifth Avenue North.

According to Kuttler, the Midtown facility was never intended to be a permanent location for the school.

“We created it as a temporary place to teach a few classes and offer tutoring,” he said. Kuttler said it was opened while the school’s downtown location was expanded.

The Midtown campus, which is one of many Pinellas County locations where the college offers classes, opened in September 2003. It currently has 93 students enrolled in summer courses. The college’s Web site notes that about 20 classes were scheduled for the summer at the location, but many are the same courses offered at different times, and most were scheduled to meet in the evening.

No classes are currently scheduled for the fall semester at Midtown, and school officials are still deciding on the future of the campus. Fall classes for other SPC locations were finalized in early June.

Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter has been a student at the Midtown location since 2005. She is taking two online courses because there are none being offered on campus that she has to take. But she enjoys going there and is impressed with the instructors.

“They’re qualified, helpful, motivated and welcome you with open arms,” she said.

Lassiter, 52, went back to school and plans to ultimately earn a master’s degree. She said it is too difficult for her to travel elsewhere for school and hopes she will be able to continue going there.

When she heard about the possibility that the campus could close, Lassiter and other students petitioned the St. Petersburg City Council to write a letter to Kuttler expressing their wishes to keep it in operation.

“They say they want to revitalize my community, and then they want to snatch something away,” she said. “With me, education is power.”

Council member Wengay Newton said the council fully agreed that the location should remain open.

“I know the value of that educational facility in that part of Midtown, and I know how much it’s needed by the people in that area,” he said. Newton and fellow council members agreed to send a letter to Kuttler last month outlining the reasons it should stay where it is.

Students who attend the campus are primarily black and come from the immediate area, but Lassiter said she has taken classes with all minorities.

“It’s not just blacks who go there,” she said. “I’ve seen Hispanics, Asians, just about every race there is.”

Kuttler said the campus has played a “very favorable” role in its surrounding community, giving lower-income students a convenient option to complete college coursework. But many students who attend the campus also go to the one downtown, he said.

Online learning has become a popular choice for SPC students as well. About half of all students at the college currently take online courses, Kuttler said. Many students never set foot in an actual classroom to earn a degree.

Security has been another issue for the Midtown facility. A recent security bill was “exceedingly high,” Kuttler said. Many students ask to be escorted to their cars after their night classes because they don’t feel safe.

The college shares the building with WorkNet Pinellas, a nonprofit agency that helps people find jobs. Both organizations pay to lease the facility from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.

Kuttler and school officials remain uncertain on when a final decision regarding the campus will be made.