Katie Booher

Beginning January 2009, nontraditional students who want to attend Miami University will have yet another alternative to help them complete their degree.

Miami is building a $7 million Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester, Ohio, that will feature classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as offer professional education to help working professionals meet their continuing education requirements.

According to Rod Nimtz, senior director of admissions at Miami’s Middletown campus and the Learning Center’s project director, Miami is gearing the center toward students who cannot attend a traditional college.

“We’re looking at whole new ways of scheduling based on the demands of people – daytime, evenings and weekends,” Nimtz said. “The facility will support 70 (or more) classes a week, plus leave rooms available for business and contracting purposes and allow the entire facility to be available on Fridays.”

The center’s goals include serving people in the region at three different levels, according to Nimtz.

“This will serve people looking to enter the workforce for the first time, people in the workforce who want to get additional courses or certifications to move ahead in their careers and people who have special licenses and certifications that are required to receive ongoing education,” Nimtz said.

The center will have five specific areas of emphasis: undergraduate courses where students earn credit toward their associates and bachelor degrees; master’s of education and business administration programs; professional education designed to meet the needs of working professionals; and contract training designed to meet specialized needs of regional businesses, industry and government agencies.

Because of this wide offering of courses, Miami expects to draw a diverse segment of the population to the center according to Carole Johnson, Miami’s internal communications coordinator.

“The nice thing about this type of learning center is that it is going to draw from a lot of age demographics,” Johnson said. “It’s wonderful because it creates a real world setting in a classroom.”

The center won’t have any facilities like a recreation center or food service; it will strictly be an academic building where the same quality Miami education will be offered, just as if students were attending the Oxford campus, according to Johnson.

“The faculty teaching at the (center) will be working within their departments’ curriculum (at Miami),” Johnson said. “They will work to help build and develop the curriculum.”

According to Johnson, the center will be beneficial for both Miami as well as West Chester, Ohio.

“A lot of the business members and community leaders of the West Chester and Mason areas can’t wait for us to get there,” Johnson said. “They have been wonderful working with us on all this and they’re excited about us coming in because education is always needed – it’s wonderful to have that there for their people.”

The idea for a learning center is not new, according to Nimtz. Miami got the land free from the government in 2000 and in exchange, they should have built a learning center within 72 months, or, by this September. Because of budget constraints, however, Miami was unable to build.

“Early on, the indications we had were that the money (for the center) was going to come from the state, but then Ohio’s economy faced some challenges and funds were not available,” Nimtz said. “Believing as strongly as the university does in the project, we approached the U.S. Department of Education and we got an extension on the time to construct the center.”

Currently, the university is in the concept and design phase of the project and should be ready to bid out the project in mid-2007, said Nimtz.

The center should be open by December 2008 and classes should start in January 2009.