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The Temecula Higher Education Center

Temecula Higher Education Center

With 110,000 residents, the city of Temecula is in one of California’s fastest growing regions. But the nearest public university is more than 30 miles away, an unusually large distance for densely populated Southern California.

The city’s leaders wanted the state to build a new California State University campus in Temecula around the time the recession began. Not a chance, they were told. And the California State University System couldn’t afford to even open a branch campus there.

That meant the best option for place-bound residents to attend a public university would remain a commute of more than 30 miles to the University of California at Riverside or, in the other direction, to CSU at San Marcos. And we’re talking about California driving.

“The traffic is horrendous,” said Suzanne Lingold, an associate dean of extended studies at CSU San Marcos. “They couldn't afford to drive to UC Riverside.”

As a result, most local high school graduates weren’t going to college, even though there are several private university campuses in Temecula.

So the city and CSU San Marcos got creative. They created a new campus location in Temecula in 2009 with a $3 million contribution from the city, which also included a former elementary school building for a rental price of $1 per year. The neighboring city of Murrieta -- also with a population of more than 100,000 -- kicked in another $200,000 to renovate the facility. Private donors contributed as well.

The state and CSU system do not pay for the campus, which is fully self-sustaining, mostly through tuition.

“Our first programs were low-hanging fruit,” said Lingold, meaning easy to launch and in high-demand fields. They included bachelor’s degrees in nursing, kinesiology and business administration.

After five years of operation, a total of about 1,000 students have enrolled in programs at the Temecula Higher Education Center, which offers five undergraduate and two master's degree programs. The center is graduating roughly 200 students per year.

“Part of its success is that it arose organically and locally,” said Ken O’Donnell, a senior director of student engagement for the CSU System. “It didn’t originate with a mandate from us. It arose from a need.”

The Temecula campus now has moved on with a phase two, which higher education experts say is a novel spin on an articulated two-plus-two degree track.

Mt. San Jacinto College, a community college located 35 miles from Temecula, has partnered with CSU San Marcos to offer a guaranteed transfer pathway -- featuring both an associate and bachelor’s degrees in business administration -- to students at a joint educational facility in downtown Temecula.

Students can take all their courses for both degrees at the new Temecula Education Complex 2, which opened last fall. The program is cohort based, meaning students progress through it together. They also get locked-in tuition pricing until graduation, as well as a guaranteed time to completion. And tuition rates at CSU and California community colleges are among the lowest in the country for public institutions.

“You can get a degree from CSU San Marcos without ever leaving your community,” said Mike Schroder, the university’s dean of extended learning and associate vice president for international programs.

To be admitted, students must be deemed college ready in math and English, according to placement tests and their high-school grade point averages. Otherwise, it’s an open-access program

The degree track is preselected, prescriptive and intentional, said Patrick Schwerdtfeger, interim vice president for instructional services at Mt. San Jacinto College. That helps ensure that students won't have to fight to get into classes, which is a common problem at public institutions in California.

“If they’re in this program,” said Schwerdtfeger, “they’re going to get through.”

Freelancing to Fill a Need

Karen Stout is the new president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit focused on college completion strategies. She began this summer, after wrapping up a 14-year stint as president of Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County Community College, which is located outside of Philadelphia.

Two-plus-two degree partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions are a relatively common and smart approach to developing a transfer relationship, said Stout. For example, Montgomery County has strong transfer relationships with nearby universities, particularly Temple University.

Valencia College, located in Orlando, Fla., has a long-standing two-plus-two transfer program with the nearby University of Central Florida, which is considered by many to be a national model.

Yet Stout said the Temecula program has a few unique, exciting features, particularly the cohort approach with guaranteed pricing and time to degree.

“This is beautifully designed,” she said. “I’ve not seen anything with all of this pulled together.”

The Temecula degree track is also unusual because it's in California, which has three strong public higher education systems. Many of the state's community colleges have solid transfer partnerships with nearby CSU and UC campuses -- O’Donnell points to Long Beach City College and CSU Long Beach as an example. And the state’s Legislature has prodded its public universities to accept more community college transfer students, even passing a law to create a new associate degree for transfer.

Yet the sort of freelancing Mt. San Jacinto College and CSU San Marcos did in Temecula is unusual. And officials with both institutions said their systems have been supportive.

“Our perspective here is rock on,” said O’Donnell.

The city of Temecula made it happen, however, said Roger Schultz, Mt. San Jacinto’s president. “The city stepped up and really gave us a deal we couldn’t pass up.”

Creating the Temecula campus wasn’t easy. Faculty members from both institutions were involved early, said Schroder, and did much of the heavy lifting to design the joint degree track. Administrators from the two institutions worked together closely as well.

“Many players had to check egos at the door,” Schroder said.

The first cohort of students in the two-plus-two program is small. But CSU San Marcos and Mt. San Jacinto say they’re in it for the long haul. The budgeting is sustainable, officials said, and they plan to add new majors soon, perhaps beginning with kinesiology.

“We have to make a commitment,” said Schultz. “I expect a much bigger class this fall.”

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