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Sierra College seeks to ensure future vital role

By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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Amid expansion plans at one university and a countywide effort to welcome another, officials at Sierra College are hoping they’re not left out of plans to make Placer County a higher education destination. “There’s just a huge disconnect between our impact in this community and the energy our civic leaders are devoting to making sure our future is as strong and as viable as that of Cal State Sacramento and a university like Drexel,” said Leo Chavez, superintendent/president of Sierra College. At a July 8 Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting, Sierra College trustee Bill Martin addressed the college’s current and future issues. He said the college expects its student population to grow to 40,000 by 2035. However, it only receives about $3,000 per student. That amount is small in comparison to the $75,000 per student after about $500 million is invested in Drexel University. Drexel is a four-year private university based in Philadelphia in talks to build a campus in Placer County. Martin also pointed out that “there are no viable plans to finance the renovation of the 50-year-old Rocklin facility and certainly none to expand to meet future enrollment needs.” Placer County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Holmes said he agrees “whole-heartedly” with Martin that Sierra College lacks the funding it needs. “It’s been neglected,” Holmes said of the college. “It needs a lot of polish.” Holmes said the board is keeping the lines of communication open with Sierra College. There are talks to help the college purchase a piece of property in west Placer County to help the school expand. “There is opportunity out there,” Holmes said. In the meantime, Chavez said the college is working well with officials from Drexel University. The university recently announced plans to open a graduate center in Sacramento. The graduate center will serve as an important indicator as to whether the university will pursue plans to build a four-year campus in west Roseville. The site would allow for 600 acres of campus and an additional 563 acres to build a community to help finance the campus. The Tsakopoulos, Cummings and Prim families and their partners donated the approximate 1,100 acres to bring a private university to the Sacramento area. Chavez added that he has spoken often with Drexel University heads and said Sierra College can offer a pool of students to the institution. “I don’t think Drexel will have anything other than a positive impact on the college,” Chavez said. Sierra College officials as well as those from William Jessup University, which was the first four-year private college built in the county four years ago, say they are happy at the prospect of another university coming to the area. “We’d be thrilled to have a greater presence of higher education in the area,” said Joe Womack, vice president for university advancement at William Jessup University. “I think it would just add to the opportunities in South Placer and the Sacramento region.” Tobey Oxholm, Drexel University executive vice president and chief of staff, shared that sentiment. He said Drexel is based in Philadelphia, which is a city with six major universities and about 80 in the surrounding region. Oxholm said that Drexel works well with those colleges and distinguishes itself from the others with its unique programs. He said when it comes to possibly building a campus in Placer County, the school looks at it as an opportunity to enhance the area. “I really think our motto has been to increase the pie, not divide it into smaller slices,” Oxholm said. “We’re really quite optimistic we’ll be adding value to the higher education community and making the region even better for higher education than it is now.” Holmes said that while the board is excited at the prospect of expanding higher education in the county, the public’s support will be critical in the growth of new and existing college facilities. “It’s a shame Placer County hasn’t been behind Sierra College,” Holmes said. “The school has gone out to bonds several times but the community hasn’t stepped up.” Holmes added with the current economy and gas prices, local higher education institutions are at a premium. “We’re excited about Drexel,” Holmes said. “But let’s not lose sight of the community college we have that’s been such a vital part of the community.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.