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Antelope Valley Coalition Prepares Bid for New CSU

The long effort to bring a four-year California State University school to the high desert is starting to gain traction. Officials from the Antelope Valley Board of Trade are preparing a master plan for the first formal bid to attract a campus to the area and a proposal is in the works to create a joint powers authority to oversee the process. The goal, said Cathy Hart, Board of Trade executive director, is to offer Antelope Valley residents a local higher education resource that will in part boost workforce training and retain local jobs. “A company will spend up to $70,000 to recruit one engineer from outside the valley. But we want to grow our own and keep those jobs,” she said. “We’re feeling the need for higher education.” She said the area has long grappled with a void of higher education options, with existing schools seeing a sizeable demand in recent years. Antelope Valley College, for example, has experienced a surge in enrollment over the past decade, topping 13,000 last year and prompting the district to hire 46 new positions. “There’s a huge demand. We have some colleges that offer some degree, but we don’t have any four-year degrees,” said Steve Malicott, president and CEO of the Antelope Valley Chambers of Commerce. There are also a limited number of MBA programs in the Antelope Valley, which means many business professionals looking for higher education are forced to travel to CSU Northridge, said Malicott, who recently convinced Pepperdine University to start offering programs in the area. “There just aren’t a lot of higher education programs up here,” he said. The effort has already received the backing of state Sen. George Runner and the city councils of Palmdale and Lancaster, which are working together on the effort, said Lancaster spokeswoman Anne B. Aldrich. The new campus could possibly build on an existing Cal State program at Antelope Valley College that opened in 2000. CSU Bakersfield and CSU Fresno offer courses on the campus, and at a small satellite operation on the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. But officials from Cal State, which currently operates 23 campuses statewide, said that while there is clearly demand, a variety of factors makes it unlikely a new school will open in the high desert within the next five years. “At this time there are no plans to open a campus in Antelope Valley,” said Cal State spokesman Paul Browning. He said the system takes factors such as proximity to traffic corridors and need for training into consideration, but the issue primarily comes down to a dearth of funding. “CSU has a strict, very limited state budget and at this point would most likely only open a new campus if the property and improvements necessary to open a campus were donated to the university, as well as meeting a host of other criteria related to demand, operational costs and community need and interest,” he said. Hart said the goal right now is to show Cal State officials that there are enough graduating high school students and older adults to support a school. “There are other (Cal State) campuses that aren’t doing as well, so they’re being very cautious. They want to see a business model,” she said. The one bright spot for Antelope Valley officials is that Cal State officials have shown they prefer areas that already have a Cal State presence. “Most of our new CSU campuses were satellite campuses that grew until the point that Cal State decided to officially open a new campus,” Browning said. For example, CSU Channel Islands, which opened five years ago in Camarillo, recently topped 3,000 students and is now one of the most popular in the system, was a satellite campus of CSU Northridge, which itself started off as a satellite of CSU L.A., Browning said. Because CSU Bakersfield already has a satellite campus in the Antelope Valley, the area is better positioned for an eventual school, Hart said. “That’s a help. If and when they are ready and they want to expand, they will do it at a satellite center,” she said. If that happens, Malicott said, the business community and high desert economy will clearly benefit. “The more programs we can bring up here, the more people we can have looking for a four-year degree in the area,” he said. Staff Reporter Chris Coates can be reached at (818) 316-3124 or ccoates@sfvbj.com .

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