As the president of Ocean County College in New Jersey, Jon Larson (M.A. ’71, Ph.D. ’85) is taking a global view of the concept of community.
For almost 18 years, Dr. Larson been at the helm of the community college, located in a county along the Jersey Shore. Ocean County College has an annual enrollment of more than 13,000 students and offers a variety of associate degrees in programs such as nursing and criminal justice, and provides both online and in-person classes.
While serving those local students is at the heart of the college’s mission, OCC is in the midst of expanding its international education programs, with a focus on growing programs throughout the Middle East and North Africa region during the past three years.
For Dr. Larson, expanding the reach of his college’s programs digitally and around the world is an opportunity for innovation and transformation, and a way to provide more opportunities for students of all backgrounds.
“It’s an opportunity to, at these campuses, do what UMD does,” he said.
Dr. Larson’s time at as a student, where he earned a master’s and doctoral degree, and an employee of UMD, was foundational to his career in higher education. Before his time at OCC, Dr. Larson served as president of Luzerne County Community College in Pennsylvania and vice president for administration and dean of institutional services at Frederick Community College in Maryland.
Among several partnerships OCC has built is one with IMI Management and Training Institute and ECCO Outsourcing, where students in Cairo can receive customer service training and English language skills to become call center agents. Through another partnership with Ain Shams University in Egypt and Kean University in New Jersey, Egyptian students can take part in a hybrid online program that will allow them to earn degrees from all three participating institutions.
“We’re convinced that education is the key to the American dream. We believe that we can play a critical role in furthering that concept,” Dr. Larson said.
Dr. Larson is determined to help set Ocean County College apart from peer institutions in order to adapt and thrive for the demands of the 21st century world. With a goal of doubling enrollment by 2020, reaching more potential students also means expanding its online course offerings and partnerships with other local institutions, including the New Jersey Institute of Technology and William Paterson University.
Under Dr. Larson’s leadership, the college is also expanding its reach through other ways, including work on a digital platform for K-12 teachers that helps them incorporate learning objectives and standards into their lessons.
“Institutions that don’t become more self-sufficient won’t be able to survive,” Dr. Larson said. “The opportunity for us to expand our reach has been a part of being ahead of the curve.”
He earned a master’s degree in political science through UMD’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and earned a doctorate in higher education and administration through the College of Education, also working as a research associate at UMD’s National Center for Post-Secondary Governance and Finance. Initially, Dr. Larson came to UMD to study English, but left the university to join the Army, serving until 1966 and changing academic course when he returned to campus. During his time at Maryland, he also worked in the admissions office.
“I’m proud to be an alum,” he said.