Higher education in Truckee: Sierra College plans expansion | SierraSun.com

Higher education in Truckee: Sierra College plans expansion

Jeff Clemetson, Sierra Sun

As local college students began classes Tuesday, community college and state officials were grappling with budget cuts that affected course offerings this semester, while Sierra College continued plans to expand its role in Truckee.

Although classes started at 6 p.m., there were still students registering well past 8 p.m.

By press time Wednesday, enrollment at Sierra College was down from 284 students last year to 242 students this year, said Mandy Davies, associate vice-president of student services.

Enrollment figures are also way down from 1999, when the school had 437 students. Davies said that exact figures for this year’s enrollment would not be available until the school is past its registration deadline of Sept. 13.

What might have been

Student bodies aren’t the only assets missing from Sierra College’s Truckee extension.

When Gov. Gray Davis line-item vetoed $126 million earmarked for community colleges from the budget this year, Sierra College lost one of its short-term expansion plans for its Truckee-Tahoe extension.

“We had wanted to put in some Mac computers to begin looking at an applied art and design graphics course,” said Sierra College president Kevin Ramirez. “We don’t have money to buy new Macs for what we thought would be a new program this year.”

Of the $126 million, the Sierra College District lost $600,000 from its instructional equipment fund. Part of that money was to purchase new computers for Truckee, which Ramirez said is very needed to expand Truckee’s distance learning program.

“We are offering 15 online computer classes in an array of areas,” he said. “We had the intention of bringing 20 to 25 computers where students who could not afford computers could sign onto these online classes.”

Ramirez said Sierra College wanted to build the program in Truckee over the next couple years and was dismayed when the Davis budget cut “diminished that opportunity.”

Ramirez is not alone. Calling Gov. Davis’ funding cut “an attack on the workhouse and backbone of California’s public higher education system,” Assemblyman Robert Pacheco, (R-Walnut), introduced legislation that would restore $98 million to community colleges for facility maintenance and updated educational facilities when the Legislature reconvened on Aug. 20. Overturning Davis’ veto was even suggested by the Legislature, which has not been done in recent California history.

In a poll conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin and Associates for the Community College League of California, 86 percent of Californians believed that community

college funding should be restored.

The public outcry over cutting the community college fund has made Davis reconsider his budget and his policy advisors are in talks with Community College Chancellor Thomas Nussbaum to see what money can be restored.

With school already in session, graphics courses and an extended computer lab will have to wait until the spring. Ramirez is optimistic about the funding returning to community colleges.

“I think the Governor is going to do an about-face here pretty quick.”

What soon will be

New computers and a graphics course won’t be the only changes for Sierra College in the spring.

As early as Jan. 1, 2002, the school may begin to phase out of Truckee-Tahoe High School and move into a new facility in the Pioneer Commerce Center. The Sierra College District Board of Trustees votes on whether to move in at its meeting on Sept. 25, said Ron Martinez, site administrator for the Truckee extension.

If the board accepts the recommendation of the school’s administrators, the Pioneer Center will house five classrooms and two computer labs and the high school will still be used for overflow, Martinez said.

Besides regular classes, the move to the new facility will combine two additional programs into that complex. One is the small business development center, which right now is across the street from the high school. The other is the community education program.

“We have for a long time believed we need a central location for all of our services in one place – we need an identity in Truckee,” Ramirez said.

The move will benefit the college because it can’t use the high school classrooms during the day.

“I’d rather go to school during the day, but it works out like this,” said student Sara Brunner, adding that there are currently not enough class and teacher choices at the extension.

Sierra College will lease space at the Pioneer Center for three to five years. After that time, Ramirez said Sierra College will try to complete its biggest expansion plan of all for Truckee – a facility comparable to its other campuses in Rocklin and Grass Valley.

“We want a Sierra College center in Truckee where local residents can come to school day and night, weekend and summer and complete degree programs and certificate programs in a reasonable amount of time,” he said.

Kevin McDonald is in his third year at Sierra College in Truckee and is on track to transfer to a four-year school. To complete the transfer requirements, he said, requires work and planning, but is possible to do in Truckee.

Other students are finding scheduling problems. Nathan Shye, who is working toward a transfer to a four-year school, said he might have to commute to the Rocklin campus to complete his general education requirements.

“That’s a big inconvenience,” he said.

Planning is already underway for a more convenient campus. In September, a consulting firm will begin market research throughout the region and beyond to find out what classes should be offered and how much interest there is for a Truckee campus.

“We’ve had a hard time trying to make sense out of what courses the community needs,” Ramirez said.

The likely site for the new full-time campus is the McIver Hill/Hippie Hill development called Summit Village. The facility, which will gradually include sports fields, classrooms and possibly dorms, is “actively being planned right now,” Ramirez said, adding that Sierra College has a “memorandum of understanding” that it will be an anchor tenant at Summit Village.

Students feel that the area will attract others to the school because the mountain lifestyle is attractive to young people.

“I know there’s a lot of young people into recreation that would also go to school here,” said Shye, himself a transplant from Redding. “I’ve been wanting to go to school since I moved here two years ago.”

Ramirez is not worried about Davis’ cuts affecting the school’s progress on moving forward with expansion plans.

“We’ve got dollars in our budget set aside to keep that planning effort moving. I have a lot of optimism and hope that we’re finally going to bring Truckee-Tahoe a comprehensive center that’s long overdue.”