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OKC Downtown College brings together five public institutions for college classes in downtown

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Oklahoma City attorney James Jennings has always wanted to write a novel and get it published, but when he started getting serious about the idea, he realized it was easier said than done.

"I discovered when I began to pursue that in earnest that you have to learn something about it, I mean, you have to learn something about the craft and the process," Jennings said. "And so I began that effort, oh, a dozen years or so ago."

Jennings said that's when he started taking classes at the University of Central Oklahoma to help him achieve his goal of writing a successful novel. But while taking classes at UCO, he heard about OKC Downtown College, a consortium of five Oklahoma public colleges " including UCO " that caters to people like him, those who live or work in downtown Oklahoma City.

He said a former UCO dean, Clifton Warren, told him about the consortium when he himself moved to OKC Downtown College to teach writing and publishing classes.

"And so the classes that I was interested in then became available at the downtown consortium," Jennings said. And the consortium location was convenient for him because he works in Oklahoma City.

The college was originally located in the First National Bank building when it opened in 1996, said Gus Pekara, the school's director. He said that's when the five institutions that comprise the consortium got together to establish a public college in downtown Oklahoma City. According to Pekara, their reasoning was that there was not a public option in downtown at that time. Other than OKC Downtown College, which moved into the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library building four years ago, there still isn't one in downtown.

The five colleges include UCO, Oklahoma City Community College, OSU-Oklahoma City, Rose State College and Redlands Community College.

"Those are all public institutions," Pekara said, "and so basically each of the institutions " based on their total enrollment " contributes to the Downtown College. And then we generate funds as we offer the classes and hope to break even. And so it's just a venture between the five institutions."

OKC Downtown College is not a two- or four-year institution, meaning its students cannot take all of their classes there or graduate with a degree from there. Instead, each of the five colleges that makes up the consortium offers classes there, which students looking to earn credit hours can take as supplemental courses, Pekara said.

The prices for these classes vary based on how much the college offering them charges for its regular classes, he said. For example, if the class is offered by UCO and taught at the OKC Downtown College, the cost would be based on the price for regular UCO classes.

But the consortium also offers not-for-credit classes that anyone can take. In fact, according to Pekara, the college's enrollment in non-credit classes is typically a lot larger than the enrollment in credit classes.

Warren, the former UCO dean who told Jennings about OKC Downtown College, has taught several of these popular classes since the consortium began more than a decade ago. He said he teaches students how to write and publish a novel in a three-part class that takes them all the way from coming up with an idea to contacting publishers once they have a completed manuscript.

Some of the students who have taken his classes have eventually gotten work published, he said. In fact, right now Jennings has a novel manuscript that is "making the rounds" among New York City book publishers, Warren said.

In addition to Warren's classes, Pekara said the school offers a number of other courses at convenient times for downtown inhabitants.

But despite catering to a wide array of interests and being one of the only public options for higher education in downtown Oklahoma City, Pekara said the college has had some trouble letting people know it's there.

"A lot of people don't know about it," he said. "It's interesting that, you know, we have to struggle to get the word out."

However for some, like Jennings, the college is one of only a few places that offers what they are looking for. Speaking about Warren's classes and the OKC Downtown College writing program, Jennings said, "I think that this is the only place in town to get that kind of education and to make the kind of progress that I have made and hope to make to a greater degree in the future."

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