Columbia College plans to offer a substantial number of courses in Calaveras County this year, which would fill a longstanding community need.
Beginning as early as this summer, Columbia could offer enough courses for 100 students to take a full class-load. They would most likely be held in the Calaveras County Office of Education building in Angels Camp, said college President Dennis Gervin.
The discussion is still preliminary, but the possibility is an exciting one for Calaveras County educators and students.
“We’d love to see it happen because I’d sure love to connect kids and young adults with their programs,” said Scott Nanik, the Calaveras County Office of Education’s director of alternative education and instructional technology. As part of his job, he also oversees adult education.
“A lot of our population doesn’t have cars,” Nanik added.
Gervin estimated that 25 to 30 percent of Columbia College’s current students come from Calaveras County, meaning that any new courses offered there could serve a population that commutes half an hour or more each way to class. Many drive much longer distances.
“We really want to make an impact in Calaveras as soon as possible,” Gervin said. “We’re looking at making a real long-term commitment starting now.”
Columbia’s pledge to expand into Calaveras County is not a new one.
About two years ago, the college purchased 5.9 acres of undeveloped property on Murphys Grade Road for $615,000. The funds came from Measure E, a $326 million general obligation bond measure passed in November 2004.
Calaveras County voters were promised their own campus on a long list of projects that included the Sugar Pine Science and Natural Resources building and the new child development center, both finished.
Before that, Columbia College had storefront classrooms at the Glory Hole Center on Highway 49 north of Angels Camp.
Gervin said opening a separate Calaveras County campus would be prohibitively expensive in the short term. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office is no longer supporting the establishment of satellite campuses, he added.
However, the college is retaining its Murphys Grade Road land and hopes to build there in the future, Gervin said.
The southern and eastern portion of Calaveras County lies in the Yosemite Community College District, which includes Modesto Junior College and Columbia College. The northern portion lies in the San Joaquin Delta Community College District.
So far, neither Columbia College nor Delta College have hosted a large number of courses in Calaveras County, leaving it high and dry in the way of postsecondary education.
Columbia College offers an evening math class at Bret Harte High School and classes for English language learners at two other locations. Calaveras Transit buses go from Angels Camp to the college’s main campus four times a day.
Delta College, based in Stockton, has considered expanding into Calaveras County in the past — most recently during the 2009-10 school year.
The study of population data and enrollment trends found that enrollment at a Calaveras County center would be too low to support it, said Matthew Wetstein, Delta College’s Interim Vice President of Instruction.
Delta College has held college preparatory and college-level English classes at Calaveras High School on an intermittent basis, but there are no classes being offered there this spring.
The Columbia College courses in Calaveras County would start with what Gervin called “high-demand” general education classes.
Calaveras County Superintendent of Schools Kathy Northington said the arrangement could have a wide range of benefits for local students — including high schoolers.
She would like to connect Calaveras County students to a middle college program like the one Columbia College offers on its own campus for Sonora High.
“Anything we can do to get our kids more connected to the higher education community is an advantage,” Northington said. “It provides motivation and tells them there’s more to learning than sitting in a high school classroom.
“That’s exciting to me, and I think it would excite them that there are more options open to them,” she said.