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Mountain Home Magazine

College without the Campus

Sep 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon

There’s a new way to get the education you need for the better job you want, and it doesn’t involve extra-long bedding, freshman hazing, or debts you’ll be paying off the rest of your life. A twenty-first century college whose office is based in Warren, Pennsylvania, created a new model to make higher education accessible for a diverse group of students when and where they need it. Northern Pennsylvania Regional College has no ivy-covered dorms, student union, or cafeteria—not even a campus. NPRC’s concentration is simply on education, and not having the burden of campus upkeep helps keep student costs down.

Students might be working in classrooms hundreds of miles apart, making friends they won’t meet in person until graduation. They may differ from each other in age, background, circumstances, needs, and interests, but they are united in their quest for an education that will make their career goals possible. NPRC primarily serves ten rural counties across the Northern Tier—Tioga County was recently added to the footprint that also includes Cameron, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Potter, Venango, and Warren counties. It grants five associate degrees—liberal studies, early childhood education, social sciences, criminal justice, and business administration—as well as offering workforce development programs and collaborating with existing institutions and service providers.

“Classes can be customized to a community’s needs,” says Jennifer Cummings-Tutmaher, vice president of enrollment and student services. “We figure out how to facilitate for them. We don’t have a lot of the barriers to higher education [of traditional educational models] but can be very nimble and responsive.” Adjunct professors offer classes tailored to specific community and workplace needs. For instance, the increasing sophistication of wastewater treatment systems highlighted the necessity for a new class. And for workers already in place, they set up classes and instruction to meet state certification standards.

“All municipalities need qualified individuals,” Jennifer says. “Same with EMT [emergency medical technician] and EMR [emergency medical responder] needs. We don’t issue the certificates, but we prepare students to take the national tests. We’ll even do CPR and first aid training. We don’t want to compete with what’s already there, we want to complement it.”

NPRC representatives meet employers and potential students in businesses and institutions such as factories to learn about specific needs and share the pathways toward meeting them. For instance, live classes have been held at a variety of venues to prepare students for commercial driver’s license certification (for over-the-road trucking), to train medical assistants and certified nurse assistants, and for careers in child development. This will “fast-track people into jobs,” Jennifer explains. There are even full-time “champions” on staff to teach classes in arts, sciences, the humanities, and criminal justice.

“Our area may be very rural but it’s filled with very talented, brilliant people with amazing degrees,” Jennifer says. “Someone who’s learned it, experienced it, and can give real life scenarios of what the work is like.”

Some students need to begin their journey with a high school diploma, or equivalency, and, fortunately, there are many places where that dream can become a reality. Sonya Metzger teaches in Wellsboro and in Bradford County, working with ten students at a time, an often diverse group whose ages may range from eighteen to sixty-five. She recalls a woman who began working on her GED (equivalency diploma) in her mid-fifties, taking ten years to complete it. She went on to achieve her life’s goal—a degree in criminal justice. A young man, encouraged to drop out of a religious school that disagreed with his lifestyle choices, earned his degree, entered the military, and was promoted to the highest level of security clearance.

“Right now there’s also state funding for apprenticeships,” Jennifer continues. “We’re working to cultivate that in Tioga County, exploring what is needed. We’ve partnered with businesses and industries where they gotten funding for apprenticeships, then blending classroom instruction with hands-on experience. We assess and determine what the needs are, what the holes are, where the business doesn’t feel it’s being served. And we explore ways we can partner with existing entities. It’s a very collaborative process.”

It works for the students, wherever they may be on their life path.

“There was a student when the school first started,” Jennifer recalls. “He’d take a class here and there, had gone to a trade school, trying to figure out what he wanted to do.” He told a counselor his dream job was working for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Any time he’d disappear, I’d send him an email to say 'you’ve got to come back!' He finally finished and sent me a photo of himself in his DCNR uniform. He often spoke about how the instructors and advisors he knew at NPRC valued him as much as he valued himself and, if he doubted it, we’d remind him. We had his back.

“We have an intimate advising approach with our students,” she continues. “What are their ultimate goals? Where do they want to go? We help them navigate challenges like bill-paying and childcare, help connect them to resources in the community. We have partnerships and articulation agreements with other higher educational institutions.” Continuing on, qualified students who want to pursue a four-year degree have a guaranteed spot at several colleges, and can transfer credits toward that bachelor’s. Jennifer says the majority of students receive need-based aid, and most graduate with no debt.

One reward for NPRC staffers is watching a hesitant student bloom. Jennifer was particularly gladdened by the achievements of a mathematically-gifted woman she’d known from her own high school years. She characterized her as “one of the smartest individuals in the school, but her life circumstances didn’t allow her to attend college. She was able to get that degree and get a bachelor’s down the road.”

For more information, find NPRC at To learn about earning a high school equivalency degree, contact Tioga County Workforce at (570) 662-8110, Bradford County Action (570) 724-1939, or your area high school. To find information about other workforce service providers, contact Trehab at or (570) 662-8110, or CareerLink at or (570) 724-1939.

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