In 1974, West Virginia University of Parkersburg established their Jackson County Center as an outreach program for students in Jackson and Roane counties. Providing many of the same services offered at the Parkersburg campus, the JCC, located at 105 Academy Drive in Ripley, allows students from Jackson and Roane counties the opportunity to earn a college degree, while being able to remain close to home.

The JCC offers an Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, and Board of Governors Degree. These degrees were specifically designed for students to be able to complete their course work at the Ripley location.

Dr. Steven Smith is the Vice President of Enrollment Management at WVUP as well as the CEO of the JCC.

Smith recently spoke with the Ripley Rotary Club regarding his views on education and the WVUP JCC.

Smith said student enrollment at the JCC was up to 650 students in 1999, and peaked at 896 students enrolled with the closing of Century Aluminum. As of the fall of 2018, Smith said enrollment was down to only 171 students; however, there has not been a significant drop in the population of Jackson County, causing him to wonder why enrollment at the JCC has decreased so dramatically over the years.

Relatively new to the area, originally hailing from Mississippi, Smith took his position with the JCC less than a year ago and is determined to bring the enrollment numbers back to the place they once were.

“I’m trying to understand why we are not attracting the number of students that we once attracted,” Smith said. “I listen to the staff that’s there all the time, they are some of the nicest people I have ever worked with. When people come into the office, they are so nice and so kind, I don’t know why anyone would turn away from the Jackson County Center. They do a great job.”

Smith feels the community has to know that they are committed to providing them with a great education.

“My vision for the JCC is very simple,” Smith said. “I want it to be a safe haven, a spring-board, a bridge-builder, and a place where students young and old can come and achieve their goals and dreams.”

Smith believes that the JCC should be an educational center that expands into a campus.

Smith says they have upgraded the facilities, including integrating the WVU colors of blue and gold, and adding a workout room where students can workout between classes. He said new signage is also being created to let everyone know of their location.

When it comes to affordability, Smith said the JCC, for those who qualify, can leave with money in their pockets.

“The average debt for students coming out of school, national debt, is about $35,000,” Smith said.

He feels that student loans are great when needed; however, they have a tendency to be placed on the back-burner when it comes to people being able to repay them, causing some institutions to lose government funding due to their default rates.

“If you don’t have to take out a student loan, don’t do it,” Smith said. “Go to school for the least amount of money you possibly can.”

According to Smith, the JCC allows for an education at a reasonable cost.

“My main priority is to focus on student success and student learning,” Smith said.

The retention rate of the JCC is about 48 percent. Smith said that once the students are enrolled, he wants to be able to keep them and make sure they are successful and graduate within a six-year period.

Dr. Christopher Gilmer, the president of WVUP, has challenged Smith to come up with a recruitment plan.

“You can’t have a successful recruitment plan without a successful retention plan,” Smith said. “That is what we are working on now and we do have a plan going forward. There are things we need to change,” Smith said. “If you’re trying to go South, you can’t keep going North.”

With plans in place, things are changing for the WVUP JCC, and Smith has high hopes for the future of the institution.

“Education gives you a legacy for your family,” Smith said. “I believe education is an avenue to success, if you use it properly.”