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COC to welcome four-year programs

110,000-square-foot University Center will open for fall semester

Posted: January 23, 2009 9:37 p.m.
Updated: January 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Barry Gribbons, vice president of College of the Canyons, looks out from the future University Center, which is scheduled to open next fall. The center will increase student access to advanced degrees.

College of the Canyons officials will open the $35 million University Center for the fall semester, giving thousands of local students access to bachelor, master and doctoral degree programs without having to leave the Santa Clarita Valley.

While COC's Valencia campus features a 10,000-square-foot temporary University Center in modular classrooms, officials hope to expand their 35 advanced-degree programs and attract more students with the new 110,000-square-foot building.

The college hosted its fifth University Center open house Wednesday, which drew 300 prospective students who shuffled in and out of the interim University Center's classrooms to meet with university representatives from California State University Bakersfield; California State University Northridge; University of La Verne; National University; Chapman University; and UCLA.

The college expects to serve 5,000 students at the new center.

"I love the fact that we can offer students ... an opportunity to get their higher-education degrees without having to move away," said Kitty Hogan, Chapman's community outreach coordinator.

Chapman offers bachelor programs in criminal justice, psychology and social science.

Chapman plans to add bachelor programs in applied sciences, legal studies and computer information systems along with a masters in psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy, Hogan said.

The open house got Robert Townsend, 35, of Saugus, interested in returning to school.

Townsend earned his associate degree in criminal justice at Cal State Los Angeles, but never earned his bachelor's degree because of financial roadblocks.

"I think it's a great opportunity to attend a four-year university," Townsend said.

The interim location opened in 2002 on the Valencia campus as a way for college officials to gauge whether students would be interested in bachelor, master and doctoral programs here.

The concept of the University Center was met with high demand as roughly 1,100 students graduated from the 35 two-year bachelor, master and doctoral programs through six colleges since it opened.

Through constant assessments of interim University Center students, the college found that child care, work schedule and transportation issues prevent many Santa Clarita Valley students from finishing college.

"With people's hectic lives, it became quite a challenge to juggle all these commitments," College of the Canyons Vice President Barry Gribbons said.

The foundering economy also gives people a reason to return to school.

"When the economy takes a downturn, it creates an increased demand for retraining," Gribbons said.

The first floor of the three-story west wing will be home to Academy of the Canyons, the William S. Hart Union High School District's only middle college high school.

The Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center students can enroll in programs with Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Long Beach for the fall, Gribbons said.

Funding for the $35 million center comes from a mix of funds, including $4 million from the College of the Canyons Foundation, the state and Measure M and Measure C.

The application process at the University Center is similar to a college's regular admissions process.

Students apply for the university programs through the specific colleges and attend nearly every class at the University Center or online.

Some classes, like special labs, require that students commute to the main campus to access equipment.
Though students attend classes at the center, they are still able to walk in the school's graduation ceremony at the main campus, Gribbons said.

Program opportunities vary from criminal justice to psychology.

"I think anything that's being offered here is popular," Gribbons said.

The evening and night programs fill up quickly because between 70 percent and 80 percent of College of the Canyons students work full-time jobs, said college spokeswoman Sue Bozman.

But there are plans to expand its offering of daytime classes to meet the needs of the younger students, who can take lower-division classes at College of the Canyons and then move onto higher-degree programs at the University Center, Gribbons said.

The center will create jobs.

"We need instructors to teach 500 courses a year," Gribbons said.

The center's plans call for a water fountain and seating space to welcome students. The lobby of the two-story University Center contains an open skyline and students will have access to self-serve food stands and an 80-seat lecture hall.

Many of the college's economic offices, including the Small Business Development Center stationed at the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, will move to the University Center, Gribbons said.

Nearly all of the 40 classrooms feature "incredible 360-degree views" of the Santa Clarita Valley and Interstate 5, Gribbons said.

"We didn't disturb one oak tree for the University Center," Gribbons said.

Ultimately, college officials hope to invite students to earn higher education degrees in a location they can enjoy.

"I think people will really enjoy coming here," he said.


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