Rural California: An Education Divide

EdSource Special Report

California considers building new CSU campus

Population centers have an edge, despite hopes of rural students.

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Interactive map by Yuxuan Xie

It’s been nearly two decades since the California State University opened a new full-service campus. That was its 23rd, CSU Channel Islands, built in Camarillo north of Los Angeles on the sprawling grounds of what used to be a state mental hospital.

Now, with many CSU campuses overcrowded and demands from some regions for better access to higher education, the Legislature has funded a $4 million study to see whether — and where — a 24th campus for 8,000 students may be built. Possible locations for a new billion-dollar campus include Stockton in the San Joaquin Valley; Concord, east of Oakland; Chula Vista, south of San Diego; Palm Desert or another spot still to be named. Or the university system and state government may decide to avoid that massive investment and expand other options like online learning to enroll more students.

A CSU planning document outlining the study says it will seek to find “the least costly solution to most quickly deliver education to drive economic development and recovery.”

Whatever the result, it will surely have major implications for thousands of future students, whether they enter CSU directly out of high school or transfer in from one of California’s community colleges.

The choice will be watched closely in isolated rural areas which have relatively low transfer rates from community colleges because, in part, they are beyond reasonable commuting distances to a CSU or University of California campus.

If a CSU were built in the Stockton area, many more students there would attend a CSU directly out of high school or as a community college transfer, according to Kathy Hart, who for seven years (until this fall) was the president/superintendent of San Joaquin Delta College there. Now, too many “just think they can’t go. It’s hard for them to get to Turlock (home of CSU Stanislaus). It’s hard for them to get to Sacramento. It seems almost impossible even if it really isn’t. They have too many barriers. A lot have jobs, have kids and often don’t have reliable transportation,” she said. Her community college has a 33 percent transfer rate among students who began planning to transfer.

Among the most important factors in the CSU location study will be projecting regional demand for university enrollment, based on demographics of children who are now in kindergarten, according to Elvyra F. San Juan, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor of capital planning, design and construction. Then the study will see how much existing campuses can be expanded or used better to meet population growth. The analysis will also estimate how many students will be taking the right high school courses to become eligible for CSU admission, she said.

Workforce needs and economic development potential will figure in too. The initial planning document said considerations must include “anticipated benefits to local schools, regional economy and students across the state.”

Of course, so will costs of acquiring land and, even if property is donated, constructing classrooms and student centers. The study will estimate “not just capital costs to open but to go to an administratively efficient size of about 8,000,” San Juan said. That means hiring faculty, counselors, janitors and security guards.

The CSU recently contracted with the HOK architectural and planning firm to guide the study. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s original focus was on just the Stockton area but the Legislature approved a broader statewide sweep, with a deadline of summer, 2020 for a possible site recommendation, if any. Then the CSU Board of Trustees, the governor and the Legislature will weigh in, along with local authorities.

Too Far Away: Distance is a barrier to bachelor’s degrees for rural community college students

Barstow commuter students face long, mountain drives to university.

Just being remote from a state university, such as Barstow in the High Desert or Quincy in the Far North, won’t be enough to win any contest, although unfilled need will be examined, officials said. The big question for such areas will be, according to San Juan: “Is there enough demand to support an institution?”

In the past, new full campuses were built in areas already served by older campuses’ satellite centers that mainly cater to working adults attending part-time. That way, new campuses grew from existing enrollments and relationships. For example, Channel Islands was born out of a CSU Northridge satellite and another in San Marcos from a satellite in San Diego State.

A similar analysis would seem to favor Stockton, which has a satellite center of CSU Stanislaus; Palm Desert, with a CSU San Bernardino center or Concord, with an outlet of CSU East Bay.

Decision makers also face strong political pressure to bring a CSU to new areas for economic development and local pride.

However, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), in a 2017 report, said new CSU or UC campuses are not warranted at this time. It contended that projected enrollment growth could be accommodated by better and increased use of current facilities, including more summer and weekend classes and by building more on current campuses.

Jason Constantouros, an LAO principal fiscal and policy analyst who worked on that report, said he does not think the conclusions have changed in the past two years even if enrollment may be growing a bit faster than previously projected.

He acknowledged one factor that local boosters for a campus often emphasize: that the very presence of a new campus in an area far from existing ones likely will boost student interest in attending a university as a freshman or transfer.

But will new local demand be enough for a full campus? Constantouros said the CSU planners face a basic tension: whether “the next campus would be in a higher population area along the coast to mitigate capacity considerations or would it be better to create more regional access” in places like the High Desert, Central Valley or Far North.

“How do you balance the desire to accommodate regional access with the fact that the state’s population is not evenly distributed?”

Similarly, a recent report by the College Futures Foundation said that CSU and UC could make room for an additional 100,000 students by getting current students to graduate faster, operate campuses more on weekends and summers and expand hybrid programs that combine online and on-campus classes. Universities could use available space in community colleges or even high schools to teach bachelor’s degree courses, the report said.

The Oakland-based philanthropic foundation that promotes greater access to higher education did not directly rule out a new CSU campus but said the universities can do much to accommodate demand short of building a new campus.

But building a new university does not guarantee that it will serve mainly neighboring students, said Benjamin Duran, executive director of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, an organization that includes colleges in that agricultural region and seeks to promote higher college completion rates. While Central and San Joaquin valley residents fought to get UC Merced established in 2005, a majority of students there now are from the Los Angeles or San Francisco Bay area, he said. Even with state Cal Grants and federal Pell grants, many UC-eligible students in the region feel they can’t afford UC, he said.

As for locating a new CSU in Stockton, Duran said that would not help students in more rural areas beyond a 45-minute drive. Perhaps the universities should establish special van, bus or rail lines to bring commuter students to campuses. Plus CSU should “really invest in quality online distance education so student can take courses where they are.”

Since most places that want a CSU are not likely to get one, more is being done to help students earn bachelor’s degrees.

More community colleges are offering the associate degrees for transfer, which streamline and guarantee entrance into a CSU, potentially lowering costs for students over the long run by avoiding unnecessary classes.

Kate Mahar, dean of institutional effectiveness at Shasta College.

Shasta College in Redding last spring started a program that offers free counseling and academic readiness training to students who finished their associate degree there and are taking bachelor level courses, usually online, from a university. Through that BOLD (“Bachelors through Online and Local Degrees”) program, 13 currently enrolled students also use the community college’s tutoring centers, library, computer labs and health center even though their classes are from another institution. This helps students who live in rural areas without reliable Internet service and adult students who need to keep full-time jobs, according to Kate Mahar, dean of institutional effectiveness there. “It’s about connection to resources,” she said.

The Far North region always hopes for a new CSU or UC but now “recognizes that they are not coming in a traditional brick and mortar way anytime soon,” she said. So, Shasta decided to create alternatives, said Mahar, who also is a regional coordinator for the community colleges’ guided pathways, the programs that keep students on tracks for their degrees.

Another model is offered at Lake Tahoe Community college: a transfer center on its campus where bachelor’s degree students can take online and some in-person classes that are offered in partnership with Brandman University, which is headquartered in Orange County, and Washington State University’s Global Campus. “That is really cool model to address the transfer issue: how to make BA’s more accessible in these rural areas,” Mahar said.

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  1. calwatch 9 months ago9 months ago

    Pretty clear that a Stockton campus is necessary, if only because the Bay Area is sprawling east. The one issue is that it could fuel some gentrification, although that would be a benefit to the many Stockton homeowners which have not recovered from the bankruptcy. University of the Pacific is not serving local residents well as a private university drawing from a larger region. I could see Palm Desert as well, although much of that … Read More

    Pretty clear that a Stockton campus is necessary, if only because the Bay Area is sprawling east. The one issue is that it could fuel some gentrification, although that would be a benefit to the many Stockton homeowners which have not recovered from the bankruptcy. University of the Pacific is not serving local residents well as a private university drawing from a larger region.

    I could see Palm Desert as well, although much of that can be handled through the existing services. The Coachella Valley also does not have the growth in families that the Stockton-Tracy region has.

  2. Debbie 10 months ago10 months ago

    Where and who can I contact to promote the High Desert? Our students only have an overcrowded community college. Cal State San Bernardino is through the Cajon Pass and it too is very crowded. Our children are trying everything to figure out options for transfer having completed their AA and AS. A High Desert CSU would greatly benefit our workforce.

  3. Marco 10 months ago10 months ago

    They need to build another school up here in the Victor Valley whether it’s a community college or a UC. The one college they have up here is overcrowded with waiting lists for students to attend classes. With nearly 400,000 people living in Victorville and its surrounding cities, one school is not enough, not to mention the population is skyrocketing.

  4. Matt Campbell 11 months ago11 months ago

    Palmdale or Lancaster in the High Desert of LA County with a population of over 500,000 desperately needs a CSU or UC Campus. Same for Victorville area serving the High Desert area of San Bernadino County. With UCLA and UC Irvine at capacity, bringing a new UC Campus in Downey (which is halfway between Westwood in LA and Irvine) would be a good fit. Also, I wonder if top tier CSU campuses like a … Read More

    Palmdale or Lancaster in the High Desert of LA County with a population of over 500,000 desperately needs a CSU or UC Campus.

    Same for Victorville area serving the High Desert area of San Bernadino County.

    With UCLA and UC Irvine at capacity, bringing a new UC Campus in Downey (which is halfway between Westwood in LA and Irvine) would be a good fit.

    Also, I wonder if top tier CSU campuses like a Long Beach State or San Jose State could be upgraded to UC status as an easier way to have more UC campuses available.

  5. Christina Foskey 11 months ago11 months ago

    Stockton is a prime location for a new CSU. Growing up there, most of my friends did not have access to additional family vehicles in order to commute to college, let alone the money for gas to commute if they did have a vehicle available to them. Some of my friends in desperation for local opportunity turned to the small for profit trade or technical schools who target that exact demographic of “high risk … Read More

    Stockton is a prime location for a new CSU. Growing up there, most of my friends did not have access to additional family vehicles in order to commute to college, let alone the money for gas to commute if they did have a vehicle available to them. Some of my friends in desperation for local opportunity turned to the small for profit trade or technical schools who target that exact demographic of “high risk not to finish” type students banking on them owing thousands of dollars in the end. Many of the certificates they offer don’t even earn a living wage unfortunately. The presence of Army enlisting officers was prevalent when I was a teen. Many of them at our school campuses and in the mall because even they knew a ticket out of Stockton and education benefits could be a tempting opportunity.

    Growing up low income in Stockton was hard. Almost all my friends had single mothers and were on some type of assistance. I am thankful for the social services which helped keep our housing afloat and food on the table. The outlook one has when growing up in a place where you are surrounded by people doing nothing with their lives is bleak. There is a contagious feeling of “ I am not worthy” and this is just “the way it is, and the way it always will be.” It is generational inheritance of low self-worth and trauma. Most of my friends got pregnant or took local retail jobs out of high school. No one actually believed they could “get out” or have a real chance. Just the fact that “getting out” of Stockton signified whether you made it or not represents a problem. It speaks volumes about the perception that there was nothing for us there to begin with.

    I wish that more people had access to higher education in that area. Most of Stockton’s social issues are fueled by generational poverty with a fair amount of substance abuse and mental health issues. I feel very strongly that the access to education could transform the outlook for the youth of Stockton, dragging it out of what feels like a depressed era. It could be a complete renaissance for the area. It would gentrify whatever immediate area the school was put in and create a small business boom along with thousands of jobs not only on campus but at the businesses which open surrounding it. Stockton deserves that. Especially after all of the inappropriate spending that happened on development and then the recession hitting so hard on housing there.

    The people of Stockton deserve to have the pride of a CSU, the hope for access to a better tomorrow, to feel in charge of their future. Once the first class graduates from a Stockton CSU everyone who knows a student graduating will be directly affected. More people will enroll. A way out of poverty is a way out of drugs, is a way out of crime and petty theft, is a way off the system of welfare and housing. Stockton needs this school. I needed this school growing up there. Create something people don’t have to escape from.

  6. Rex Holiday 11 months ago11 months ago

    When I attended CSU, Stanislaus, to complete my bachelor of arts degree from 2001 to 2003, 100% of my classes were on the Stockton satellite campus. The only time I ever had to go to the main campus located in Turlock, was to enroll and for my graduation. The student body population for the Stockton satellite campus, which was also a satellite location for Fresno State University at the time, was less than a thousand … Read More

    When I attended CSU, Stanislaus, to complete my bachelor of arts degree from 2001 to 2003, 100% of my classes were on the Stockton satellite campus. The only time I ever had to go to the main campus located in Turlock, was to enroll and for my graduation. The student body population for the Stockton satellite campus, which was also a satellite location for Fresno State University at the time, was less than a thousand students. In fact, I believe it was less than 500 students.

    That aside, the convenience of not having to drive to Turlock, Sacramento or Hayward was worth every minute and was a major factor in my decision to pursue my BA degree. Now, 17 years after I graduated with my BA, I have an MA and a Ph.D. I am convinced that had that Stockton satellite campus not been available, my education could have taken a much different turn.

    If having a full CSU campus in Stockton could increase student enrollment and graduation rates, then I hope they get one. With some of the negative history of the Stockton community, the presence of a CSU could be a real boost to community morale and public perception.

  7. Sean Painter 11 months ago11 months ago

    I could see an argument for all the potential sites being built, not just one. My preference would be 1.) Chula Vista (South Bay State), 2) Stockton, 3) Palm Desert, 4) Silicon Valley (which is a horrible name, and should be San Mateo State), and 5) Concord. In addition, I would like the study to look at the viability of campuses in southern Imperial Valley near Calexico, Ukiah, Truckee/Lake Tahoe area, and Redding.

  8. Andrea Mays 11 months ago11 months ago

    All excellent points. Currently CSU campuses are virtually empty during June, July and August. How about a trial: have full semester courses available on campus during summer. See how many more students can graduate within 4 or 5 years when the campuses are not empty for 25% of the year.

  9. Charlie 11 months ago11 months ago

    Please put one in Stockton! Everyone who went to Delta College has to move far away just to transfer to a local University and UoP is an expensive private school. The transition from Stockton rent to Sac or the Bay is phenomenal and hard to adapt.

  10. Michael B. Reiner, Ph.D. 11 months ago11 months ago

    Alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar campuses need to be the focus, as well as using current facilities more efficiently. I hope the feasibility study is not influenced by political considerations over the need to provide access to higher education in areas underserved by the California State University System. When I was in Florida, the legislature decided it was too expensive to build a new university campus to serve the needs of students. Instead, plans were made … Read More

    Alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar campuses need to be the focus, as well as using current facilities more efficiently. I hope the feasibility study is not influenced by political considerations over the need to provide access to higher education in areas underserved by the California State University System.

    When I was in Florida, the legislature decided it was too expensive to build a new university campus to serve the needs of students. Instead, plans were made to offer bachelor’s degrees at the community colleges. There certainly was pushback from state universities that thought the community colleges were expanding their scope beyond the institutional mission. That is a reasonable criticism, but the data needs to be examined to determine the success or failure of Florida’s effort.

    California is already offering bachelor’s degrees at community colleges, so why not expand that initiative first?

  11. BrianB 11 months ago11 months ago

    I like el's idea/comment, as well as offering courses at non-traditional times - not just evenings, which typically run from 6 to 10pm. After those hours, the classrooms sit vacant until 7 or 8 am the following day - why not utilize that time and offer a limited number of classes for those working students who are unable to attend day or evening class, and perhaps can't do an online course for whatever reason? Same … Read More

    I like el’s idea/comment, as well as offering courses at non-traditional times – not just evenings, which typically run from 6 to 10pm. After those hours, the classrooms sit vacant until 7 or 8 am the following day – why not utilize that time and offer a limited number of classes for those working students who are unable to attend day or evening class, and perhaps can’t do an online course for whatever reason? Same goes for the weekends.

    Also, why not utilize existing high schools for facility/classroom use and offer CC or CSU/UC courses there – after hours, evenings, “midnights”, weekends, etc? If accessibility is part of the issue, why not make the classes more accessible by offering them at more realistic times?

    There are night owls in all walks of life – students, parents, working staff, teachers/professors, etc. Open up beyond the traditional hours of operation, and watch enrollments and transfers and graduations increase.

  12. el 11 months ago11 months ago

    I wonder how much we might be able to do with dual-credit courses offered at community college students, especially for commuter students. For example, I happened to notice a class that had the same title, and taught by the same instructor, at both our community college and at a CSU campus. I suspect this is not the only case of shared faculty across nearby campuses. By giving the CC class direct CSU credit instead of … Read More

    I wonder how much we might be able to do with dual-credit courses offered at community college students, especially for commuter students. For example, I happened to notice a class that had the same title, and taught by the same instructor, at both our community college and at a CSU campus. I suspect this is not the only case of shared faculty across nearby campuses. By giving the CC class direct CSU credit instead of making it a transfer class, students would be able to take additional credits from the CC which creates additional flexibility and capacity.

    There are students who come up with some pretty creative schedules across multiple campuses to meet various needs. No one should have to do this, but for commuter students particularly, you can see that it might help to meet some need. The ability to take say Tuesday-Thursday classes at a distant CSU while supplementing the load with classes MWF at the satellite center or community college might be a significant help to students trying to get their education within the circumstances of their lives.

  13. Bo Loney 11 months ago11 months ago

    Excellent!!