The Forum

Florissant Valley Students Return to Transforming Campus

By Vienna I. Austin

October 25, 2023

A 3D rendering of the completed Advanced Manufacturing Center from architectural firm JEMA.

Both newly enrolled and returning students of STLCC Florissant Valley alike find themselves entering a visibly changing campus. On vast ranges of what were once mostly empty surface parking lots flanking either side of Florissant Valley’s entry loop now exist the robust, bustling construction sites of much anticipated upcoming additions to the campus. Breaking ground in highly attended events on July 19 and August 18, respectively, the two buildings, dubbed the Center for Nursing and Health Sciences and the Advanced Manufacturing Center, are part of Phase 1 of the district-wide revitalization project called STLCC Transformed, an undertaking projected to nearly exceed half-a-billion dollars, and that has been previously reported upon in The Forum. The new constructions on campus are estimated to collectively cost roughly $123 million, with the Center for Nursing and Health Sciences preliminarily priced at $61.97 million and the Advanced Manufacturing Building estimated to cost a similar $61 million. Both campus construction projects are expected to complete in late 2024, roughly a year and a half after work on them began during the summer, making the two centers the second and third of six new STLCC buildings to begin construction amidst the aforementioned Phase 1 of STLCC Transformed, trailing Wildwood’s Center for Health Sciences and Technology, which broke ground on May 25.

This endeavor to expand upon the pre-existing facilities and infrastructure of the Florissant Valley campus, and of all STLCC campuses, is a, if not the, central goal of the current college administration. The 205-page 2021 master plan of the project ends on an uncredited faculty quote that acts as a defining microcosm of the sentiments of the document itself and the public rhetoric of members of the STLCC administration: “Before us is an opportunity to change how we teach, how we foster learning, and how we impact our community for decades to come.” This language of investment in the future surrounding the project is not new, and, in fact, dates back to the campaign for 2021’s Proposition R, a successful ballot proposal to increase the property taxes that partially fund STLCC, a measure that has allowed for the funding of STLCC Transformed’s massive spending. On the, at the time, upcoming vote, STLCC Subdistrict 4 Board Trustee Craig Larson stated: “As the community looks ahead to growth and long-term economic development potential, investments in training opportunities and career paths for the next generation of our workforce is critical. This proposition will go a long way toward enabling job growth in important industries for our region including health care, information technology, biotechnology, and manufacturing. We are optimistic that voters will see the incredible value this proposition will bring to our region and look forward to sharing more about this proposal between now and August 3.” Despite how lofty and optimistic these ideas may sound, they are not unfounded in their goals, given the circumstances of STLCC, and of community college education across the country.

As The Forum has previously covered, it is certainly no secret that the enrollment figures of STLCC have been in drastic decline for years. Between 2013 and 2022, the extent of STLCC's publicly available enrollment data, fall semester enrollment fell from 24,005 students to a mere 14,301. However, as is noted in the STLCC Transformed master plan, this phenomenon is not exclusive to St. Louis. Data in the document shows a drastic decrease in community college enrollment across the United States between its recession-era peak and 2016, a trend that has continued, and even worsened, into the era of COVID-19. 

Katharine Meyer, who holds a doctorate in Educational Policy, and is a Fellow in the Governance Studies program for the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute, recently published a 2023 Brookings commentary article on the state of declines in higher education and the potential solutions to such, titled: "The case for college: Promising solutions to reverse college enrollment declines." In the commentary, Meyer outlines the sociopolitical background of enrollment decline, citing an increase in polarized skeptical attitudes, especially on the political right-wing, on higher education, with a recent Wall Street Journal/NORC poll showing that roughly 56% of Americans do not see college as a worthy investment, an increase from previous years. Unfortunately, despite the myriad values that college education continues to provide to both individuals and communities, as cited by Meyer and STLCC, anti-college sentiments seem to only increase, as enrollment seems to only decrease, with 42% of enrollment decline between 2010 and 2021, a decline of 15%, occurring in the COVID-era alone, between 2019 and 2021, according to Meyer. This is an issue well-known to STLCC, with combating enrollment decline being explicitly established as a central goal of STLCC Transformed.

This, likely, is the cause for much of the language and fervor surrounding the project. Enrollment is dropping fast, government funding is decreasing along with it, and the economy is increasingly demanding the training and education that many are no longer receiving, as stated in the aforementioned STLCC Transformed master plan. Education is in crisis, and STLCC Transformed wants to be the solution for the St. Louis region. However, the obvious question remains: will it work?