Millard Fillmore College Reorganizes to Focus on Continuing Education, Professional Studies

Work with nontraditional students includes classes in the workplace

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: December 27, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With all due respect to Mark Twain, George J. Lopos maintains that "the report of the death of Millard Fillmore College has been greatly exaggerated."

"We are alive and kicking," says Lopos, who has served as dean of the college since 1995.

After nearly 80 years as the University at Buffalo's night school, MFC has reorganized and redirected its focus toward the nontraditional student.

And that's a good thing, says Lopos, who also serves as UB associate vice provost for academic affairs, in addition to his MFC duties.

Although MFC's mission always has concentrated on the nontraditional student, a major portion of the college's responsibilities had included providing traditional academic courses to both the night-school and regular university audience.

But in offering academic courses, there "developed a set of obligations for us with the traditional on-campus programs and students that, I think, diverted us from our primary mission, which is to try to make the university available to the nontraditional student," Lopos says.

Now that the academic departments have taken over responsibility for all academic courses, MFC no longer offers degrees and can turn its attention full-time to the nontraditional student, he points out.

But just who is this "nontraditional" student?

Lopos describes the typical nontraditional student as "the adult who is working and comes to school part-time, whose primary responsibilities are family, work, community and then education -- in that order." Most nontraditional students at UB are over the age of 30.

"This is the person who's trying to get continuing education for career improvement, career changes, self-enrichment, but at a university level," he continues, adding that for the most part, the courses sought by the nontraditional student are a level above those that are being offered in the community education programs that are held in high schools.

Nontraditional students usually are "people who are trying to pick up a couple of extra courses -- particularly with our orientation now, we're focusing on continuing education and professional studies," Lopos says.

In fact, individuals who dropped out of school, established careers and raised families and now want to return to school to finish their degrees will have to do so through the academic departments, rather than through MFC.

MFC now is more "student-driven" in the types of programs and courses it offers, notes Larry R. Gingrich, assistant dean for continuing education.

"What we are going to focus on are the kinds of courses and programs that are really nonduplicating the traditional academic programs," adds Lopos.

MFC this fall offered 53 individual courses -- including lecture courses, online courses and telecourses -- as well as certificates programs in computing and network management, contract management, entrepreneurship, health and human services, health-care administration, international trade, materials management, paralegal studies and public relations/advertising. Enrollment for the fall semester was 712 students.

Since the nontraditional student "doesn't go lockstep through the educational process -- life gets in the way," MFC must be flexible in how it delivers courses, Lopos says. Thus, courses are taught at night and on weekends. And with telecourses -- and in particular distance-learning courses -- the student can attend class when it is most convenient for his or her own schedule.

MFC also offers a program, University Study in the Workplace, at the three American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) locations in Western New York. MFC provides credit courses, both on-site and through distance learning, and becomes the liaison, or local education agency, with UB for those in the program, many of whom are working toward their baccalaureate degrees, says Gingrich, who runs the program for MFC.

"It's one way that we're serving the community -- local business and industry -- and it's part of our new mission," Lopos says, pointing out that MFC is looking for more opportunities like this.

MFC serves as an outreach college of UB, Gingrich notes. MFC coordinators conducting information sessions at AAM often hear from the associates there that they have bachelor's degrees and, while making great money, do not want to work on the production line their entire careers -- they're looking to further their education. "So we become a resource on-site for the university. That's part of our role. It's not just offering classes, not just scheduling classes, not just enrolling students."

"We just talk things through; they don't know where to start," adds Lopos of students looking to further their education.

Lopos and Gingrich note that since MFC is no longer offering academic classes or degree programs, some people and departments on campus -- and perhaps in the community -- assume the college no longer exists.

And that's far from truth, they stress.

This reorganization of MFC "gives us a clearer focus, and that's what we're expressing to the students and to the people on campus," Lopos says. "We want the people on campus to understand that we are still here; we're a lot smaller than we were before -- staff is very small -- but we're going to build.

"People have a nostalgic view of what MFC was, but UB is changing, so why should we not expect that the elements within the institution will also change?"

For more information about Millard Fillmore College, call 829-3131 or access the MFC Web site at http://www.mfc.buffalo.edu.