Citing the growing shortage of classrooms and labs that places 4,000 students on waitlists per semester, the Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously March 9 to put a $230 million bond measure on the June 7, 2016, general election ballot.
Before the vote, board members received a detailed presentation by college staff about the projects that would be funded by a bond. There is an urgent need to build new classrooms and labs for the training of critical professions, including nurses, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, and law enforcement officers.
Plus, more classrooms are needed to serve a growing population of local students who choose College of the Canyons for the first two years of college as a high-quality, cost-effective alternative to more expensive California State University campuses and the University of California system.
“College of the Canyons has a demonstrated need for new classrooms and labs, along with safety and accessibility improvements and technology upgrades,” board president Bruce Fortine said. “And because this college has a proven track record of helping local students, professionals and employers meet their educational and business goals – from nursing, to technology-based careers, to giving local high school students a jump start toward four-year degrees – it is clear that enrollment will continue to increase.”
“Our college has demonstrated a consistent ability to plan for the future, leverage state and local resources for maximum impact, and provide the facilities and programs our community needs,” said Anna Frutos-Sanchez, a Santa Clarita resident and local business leader who attended the board meeting. “This bond is a crucial next step in ensuring College of the Canyons is equipped and ready to deliver the education and training students and workers need to excel in 21st century careers.”
California’s community colleges – and College of the Canyons particularly – will play a critical role in ensuring the continued vitality of California’s thriving economy. Job market projections show that thousands of the jobs in L.A. County and the state will require more education than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.
By 2025 – just nine years from now – 30 percent of all job openings in California, or 1.9 million jobs, will require some college, but not a bachelor’s degree. Given the 200-plus training partnerships that College of the Canyons has with area businesses, the demand for access will continue to increase. A recent poll conducted at a local economic development conference showed that access to workforce training was the top priority for area business leaders.
During the board meeting, information was presented about how the college has struggled to provide enough classes at times when students can take them. During peak attendance times – from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and between 6 and 10 p.m. – classrooms, labs and parking lots are at their maximum capacity. Because of this overcrowding, it takes students longer to complete their educational goals.
Avneet Ghotra, the student member of the Board of Trustees, shared her experiences in trying to get the classes she needed. “I tried enrolling in Biology 107 multiple semesters, but it was always full because most students who are science majors need this class,” she said before the board’s vote. “Adding more labs, especially at the Canyon Country campus, will relieve the overcrowding and help students to earn their degrees faster and transfer to a four-year campus.”
Enrollment data shows that 60 percent of the students who graduate from the Wm. S. Hart Union High School District high schools attend College of the Canyons at some point. And, more than 900 Hart district students attend College of the Canyons while they are still in high school, taking advantage of a college policy that waives enrollment fees for high school students, to get a jumpstart on their college educations.
“This is a defining moment for the future of College of the Canyons,” Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook said. “We can’t rely on funding from the state of California to accommodate both our current and future enrollment. With no new construction money approved by Sacramento in the last 10 years, there are billions of dollars in projects that need funding in California. Local bond funding is the only way to ensure College of the Canyons has the resources it needs to meet this community’s expectations for access to higher education.”
Van Hook noted that if state funding does become available in the future, local bond money would be required for College of the Canyons to access it. “When the state funds construction projects at local colleges, it awards money first to those colleges that can contribute local resources to the project. Passing a bond will enable us to leverage state resources when they come available, and stretch our local dollars.”
College of the Canyons operates two campuses, a 154-acre site at the corner of Valencia Boulevard and Rockwell Canyon Road in Valencia, and a 72-acre facility on Sierra Highway in Canyon Country. The Canyon Country campus exceeded its five-year enrollment target the day it opened in 2007, drawing more than 3,500 students. Because of continued enrollment growth there, the campus is eligible to receive 85 percent of the construction costs of three permanent buildings from the state, assuming state resources are available, and only if the college has local funding to match state resources.
The Valencia campus was designed 46 years ago to serve a capacity of 5,000 students. Currently, the college serves 20,000 students on both campuses. Projections now call for a student body exceeding 30,000 in little more than a decade.
The growing cost of obtaining an education in the UC and CSU systems means more students will rely on College of the Canyons as an affordable alternative for the first two years of college. On average, attending a CSU campus costs students five times more than equivalent classes at College of the Canyons. For a UC, the expense grows to 10 times more.
“Our commitment has always been to meet the community’s needs,” Van Hook said. “We want the facilities at College of the Canyons to be ready when our local families need them.”
At Wednesday’s board meeting, college staff also briefed the board about other urgent facilities needs, including upgrades to security and electrical systems, plumbing, lighting, heating, ventilation, fire and earthquake safety, as well as repairing or replacing several aging roofs, some of which are more than 40 years old. In addition, some of the stairs, walkways, ramps and parking lots on campus need to be upgraded to comply with current requirements for providing access to disabled students.
The June 7, 2016 general obligation bond measure adheres to the guidelines of Proposition 39, which requires approval by 55 percent of the voters within the college district. It also includes accountability measures such as a citizens’ oversight committee and annual audits. The impact on homeowners would be $15 per $100,000 of assessed value (not market value), which would generate $230 million over the next 12 years.
“We want to be sure voters understand that the money provided by the bond will stay in our community and cannot be taken by Sacramento,” Fortine said. “It will be carefully monitored, with citizen oversight and third-party audits. And, the funds will be spent only on the specific projects we’ve described. The money cannot be used for things like faculty, administrator, and staff salaries, or other college operating expenses.”
“This bond is focused on ensuring student access,” Fortine said, “and will ensure College of the Canyons can provide the education and training necessary to meet the needs of students, whether their goals are to move on to higher levels of education, or to learn skills needed for success in fast-growing, high-paying career fields.”
The college plans to post information about the bond measure, project lists and general information on its website at www.canyons.edu.