By Joe Crews
For Hometown News
Even before getting "interim" removed from his title last month, Bethune-Cookman University President Edison Jackson had embarked on a campaign to expand the school's reach and community image.
The wide-reaching initiative -- which he dubbed a "town and gown" approach -- includes establishing branch campuses to complement the school in Daytona Beach; implementing evening and Saturday classes to make them more available to non-traditional students and working adults; adding several new master's degree programs; and renovations and construction of new buildings at the main campus.
Dr. Jackson outlined his campaign at a recent meeting of the Volusia Council of Governments.
The first of what could be as many as three branch campuses will be established in Deltona, Dr. Jackson told the representatives of most of Volusia County's cities and the county.
"Why there? There are pockets of Deltona that we can serve," he said. "The mayor and others were very supportive and welcoming."
Dr. Jackson said B-CU is negotiating with the owner of a former medical complex on Saxon Boulevard and should finalize a deal "very soon."
In a short interview outside the meeting, Dr. Jackson said the complex needs a minimal amount of renovation and will be open for the fall term.
Deltona has a large Hispanic population that is "crying out to be served," he said. "We're trying to address that need."
Mayor John Masiarczyk said he was excited to hear about B-CU's expansion into Deltona.
"It's going to bring something different to Deltona than we've been accustomed to," he said. It will help not only the young people who won't have to drive to Daytona Beach or wherever, but it also could help older people wanting to brush up on or get new skills."
There's also another aspect that appeals to the mayor.
"I've seen the (B-CU) band in the past, and I would love to have them perform here," he said. "Even if the football team can't play here, we have a facility that could handle the band."
Dr. Jackson said Bethune-Cookman also is looking for possible locations for branch campuses in Orlando and Ormond Beach.
"We want to entice young people where they are comfortable, either at our main campus or where they are," he said.
As part of that, the university also is expanding its online courses, which a student can take at his or her own pace from wherever the student can log onto the Internet.
Also, B-CU added evening and Saturday classes last fall. More than 600 students enrolled this year, Dr. Jackson said, and more than 1,000 are expected to be in those classes this coming year. The university had a total enrollment of about 3,500 students last fall.
"Not everyone can attend classes during the weekday, so we're trying to meet that need," he said. "I don't know why it took so long."
Dr. Jackson said many people have been "crying out for Bethune-Cookman to claim its place in our community."
"I'm trying to create a new vision, a new way of doing business," he said. "Bethune-Cookman has a $70 million dollar budget, and we can be a good economic partner with the cities and the county."
The five new graduate degree programs are another part of Dr. Jackson's vision to make B-CU a "fine academic institution in our community."
"Pushing the notion of a world-class graduate excellence is our agenda, and our only agenda," he said. "This community deserves the best from us. For too long, we've closed ourselves off from the community, and now we're trying to reach out and develop partnerships in the community."
For instance, Bethune-Cookman is working with the school districts in Volusia and Flagler counties, Dr. Jackson said.
"We gave the superintendents 10 full scholarships to be given to top students, the best of the best," he said.
Candace Lankford, vice chair of the Volusia County School Board and its representative to VCOG, said the district already had been working with Bethune-Cookman on professional development and other partnerships.
"I look forward to (the partnership) expanding," Ms. Lankford said. "Anytime we can help the children of Volusia County with strong partners like Bethune-Cookman, we're for it."
Dr. Jackson was president at Medgar Evers College in New York, N.Y., for 20 years before retiring in 2009. He was named interim president at B-CU last May. In March, the university's board of governors named him the school's sixth president.