Approximately 86 percent of college and university students are defined as commuter students, according to MPR Associates, a research and consulting firm that specializes in education. For residents of Martha’s Vineyard, commuting to college may not be a viable option once the cost and time of travel is factored into the equation.
Lynn Ditchfield, founder and director of ACE MV (Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard) would like to provide Islanders with more options. She is working to arrange college credit and certification courses through nearby mainland institutions of higher education. Her long-range goal is host a satellite program for one of the schools now participating in the ACE MV exchange.
Although the majority of ACE MV offerings fall into the category of enrichment, such as art, cooking, fitness, writing, language and computer classes, the class schedule also includes a Professional Development curriculum.
For the current (winter/spring) semester, ACE is offering a basic psychology and an English composition course for undergraduate credits, and an advanced early childhood education course – all through Cape Cod Community College.
Ms. Ditchfield is teaching a graduate level arts education course through Fitchburg State University. Tuition runs the same as it would for students attending the off-Island schools – $525 for three-credit undergraduate courses, $850 for the graduate course.
Also on the current Professional Development schedule are GED preparation courses, food safety certification workshops and two classes for health care providers that meet required continuing education requirements for a number of fields. Some classes have already begun, but others are set to commence in March.
Talks with participating schools began in the organization’s kick-off year of 2008. Northeastern University was among the schools that offered courses during 2010, but they have since pulled out of the arrangement.
“What I have found is that a lot of schools off Island want any off-campus courses to be online,” she said. “That’s not at all what we’re about. We’re very much about building community resources, sustainability, and hooking people up so they can become resources for each other, as well as giving opportunities to local teachers.”
All of the ACE MV college credit course instructors are Vineyarders who have qualified and been hired by the off-Island schools. “Our priority is to be here for our own faculty,” Ms. Ditchfield said. “We have amazing people on the Island who already are professors waiting for opportunities. Like Cape Cod, we have a tremendous resource with people who have retired here from various professions.”
Working with the off-Island schools has been a learning experience for Ms. Ditchfield, the sole employee of ACE MV. She said that making and managing the arrangements has been extremely time-consuming and, at times disappointing. “We offered certain courses where we didn’t get enough students to meet requirements at the college level so we offered them as enrichment courses,” she said. “I’m offering my course at the graduate, undergraduate, and enrichment level.”
Through community outreach and surveys, Ms. Ditchfield is learning to home in on the community’s needs and what it can sustain. “We now only offer the classes we are at least 75 percent sure will run for credit because they are deeply requested as needs from many,” she said. “Our challenge is getting the right courses so we can have 12 people and meet the greatest need for the most people.”
Next year, Ms. Ditchfield hopes to add some agriculture-related science courses. She has just completed a survey of local farmers to determine which courses to offer.
Her goal is to one day make remaining on the Island an option for the college bound, not the only option. Ms. Ditchfield stressed, “I would like to be clear that we’re not trying to replace the opportunity of going off Island to go to college. We want to provide a service for people who, for many reasons, cannot get off Island or who have returned. There are many people who have tried to go off island to school and couldn’t survive.”
For more information go to acemv.org.