Airports, Aquariums, and Zoos, Oh My!
by Dr. Ellie Bruecker and Dr. Matthew Crespi
In the process of building the CASL dataset, one of our more interesting observations was the variety of settings where community and technical colleges offer courses. More commonly than four-year colleges, public two-year colleges are embedded within their communities (hence the name!) in myriad ways. Many offer courses at local high schools, either dual enrollment programs for current high school students or adult basic education or GED programs for adults.
But we saw a much wider variety of locations in our review of these colleges — like degree programs in aviation technology, offered at regional airports. At Gavilan College in California, the college partnered with the county’s San Martin Airport to construct a new hangar and renovate classrooms for its program in 2016. We also saw nursing programs with clinical sites at local hospitals and care facilities; programs and courses offered on military bases and in correctional institutions; and even smaller course offerings at local town halls or shopping malls. Some colleges even offer classes at aquariums and zoos! Oregon Coast Community College offers an Associate’s degree in aquarium science, taught at its Aquarium Science Facility. And SUNY’s Jefferson Community College offers a zoo technology program that partners with multiple zoos across the state to provide on-site training.
While we didn’t categorize our data by location type, a recent mapping tool and underlying data from UW-Madison’s SSTAR Lab did! In their analysis of DAPIP (Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs) data on college locations, the SSTAR Lab categorized 10 different location types, including branch campuses, K12 settings, hospitals, private companies, and more. Of the 1,071 public Associate’s Degree-Granting institutions in their dataset, 337 reported additional, non-campus locations in DAPIP.
So why does this matter? It’s undoubtedly a good thing for community and technical colleges to offer education within their communities and in settings that make sense for technical training. But unorthodox instructional settings can present challenges for transit planning. While transit planners might know to plan bus access to a community college campus around the needs of students and class schedules, students going to and from class may be a very small but nonzero percentage of riders on airport routes. Even if the airport is busy enough to have frequent trips, stop locations on those routes are going to be convenient for passengers flying from and into the airport — but are any of those terminal stops workable for a student going to class in another building on site? Similarly, courses offered in strip malls or office buildings may be served by routes thinking about shoppers and commuters. And, what of the rare (but probably totally awesome) astronomy course held in an off-site observatory?
In the case of some fortunate nontraditional locations, sometimes no transit adjustments are needed at all. Nursing classes in a hospital, for example, may already have great transit access, as some hospitals already need to be accessible by all kinds of people at all times of day. Even in the case of astronomy classes at an observatory, we’re not always talking about a remote outpost on a dark desert road — Montgomery College in Maryland has their observatory on the roof of the nearby Rockville Science Center, which has over a dozen transit lines (spanning bus and rail!) within a five block radius.
In other cases, these idiosyncratic use cases are not well served, but could be with mild adjustments. Planners could allow the bus to take an extra minute to pass the airport building that holds classes, stopping only if the driver sees a passenger waiting or has a request to let off. Sometimes a mild routing change or a schedule change of only a few minutes could be the difference between students being able to make a class or not. In other cases, there may not be a good solution for a transit agency to implement (e.g., in the case of a very remote observatory with a single digit number of class sessions a week), but perhaps a shuttle van run by the school from the main campus would serve student needs.
Alternative settings for student instruction and training can provide massive educational value, from situating classes closer to where students live to providing instruction in settings that offer hands-on experience that could never be replicated on a traditional campus. While not every one-off location is a transit success story waiting to happen, it’s important for planners to realize that accommodating the needs of students at a school sometimes means more than just getting them to the large campuses.