Fingers Crossed, Leaders of Community Colleges Hope for Cash to Fix Facilities

      In many ways, Victor Valley College has an exceptionally modern campus. Thirty percent of the California community college's energy comes from a sprawling six-acre field of solar panels—one of the largest of its kind in North America. Its science building houses a state-of-the-art planetarium. And most of the institution's grass has been replaced with sustainable, synthetic landscaping to conserve water, a priority at a college located in the Mojave Desert. But when it comes to the basics, much of Victor Valley is falling apart.

      The college was built during the rapid expansion of the nation's higher-education system in the 1960s and 70s, and despite efforts to maintain aging sections of the campus, the roofs of the oldest buildings leak nearly every time it rains. That often means canceled classes. "Absolutely every time there's a rainstorm, there's either a flooded parking lot or flooded classroom or something," says Peter W. Allan, the college's interim executive vice president for instruction and student services.

      The air-conditioning system also has a history of breaking down, he says, forcing more canceled classes on hot days, when the desert heat reaches nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the campus's computers are outdated, course scheduling is still done by hand, and the college has been forced to cut back on classroom equipment and supplies. Mr. Allan estimates that of the institution's 35 buildings, about half need to be replaced.

      Victor Valley is just one of many community colleges whose aging campuses desperately need renovation. Since President Obama announced his American Jobs Act, on September 8, administrators across the country have been holding their breath in hopes of receiving part of a $5-billion chunk reserved for community colleges. The legislation requires that the money be spent specifically on modernizing and repairing outdated facilities, including upgrading technology, improving energy efficiency, and removing asbestos.

      "All across North Carolina, all across the country, there are schools with leaking ceilings and lousy heating, ventilation so poor it can make students sick," said Mr. Obama during a recent speech at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. "How can we expect our kids to do their best in places like that?"

Hot Water at Last

      In Texas, Amarillo College is in the process of renovating two buildings, which have remained largely unimproved for more than 40 years. The institution's president, Paul Matney, says the changes so far have been significant. Hot water finally flows into the sinks of the science labs, and space has been reconfigured to better serve different class sizes. Still, Mr. Matney says, the renovations are a far cry from everything the 11,000-student college needs. Nearly half the classrooms could benefit from computer and audiovisual technology, and the 43-year-old library needs to be modernized.

      Enrollment at community colleges has grown by more than 1.4 million in the past three years, according to data from the American Association of Community Colleges, often as financing has stagnated, or even decreased. That means more students on waiting lists, larger class sizes, and increased wear and tear on facilities.

     At Victor Valley the population has grown from 2,000 students in the 1970s to 13,500 students today, with a waiting list of roughly 1,000.

When money is scarce, fixing things like leaky roofs and outdated air-conditioning systems can often be put on hold; but colleges don't always have time to wait for federal money. Five years ago, Victor Valley was forced to demolish and rebuild its entire gymnasium after the building was deemed a safety hazard. The concrete used in the original foundation placed it at risk during earthquakes—a major concern for a college located within 40 miles of the San Andreas Fault. "That was definitely an unforeseen expense," Mr. Allan says. "If we spent less money on facilities, that could lead to more money for hiring faculty," which could expand the number of classes offered each semester and shrink the waiting list.

      Renovating old buildings for better energy efficiency could save a college more than a million dollars a year, estimates Debra G. Rowe, a professor of energy management at Oakland Community College, in Michigan. "If you look at the budgets of community colleges after salaries, utility bills are often the highest item," she says. Ms. Rowe supports the American Jobs Act legislation and believes it would "produce a healthier economy for everybody because it gets rid of needless waste."

Outdated Technologies

      Another urgent need is technological renovation in classrooms, most of which were never designed for 21st-century job training. Many programs offered today didn't exist when colleges were built, and courses like photovoltaics, sonography, and aircraft maintenance can't always be offered in a typical classroom—or in the secondhand spaces that some colleges occupy, like former high schools or government buildings.

      "A lecture class can take place in a nice room or not so nice, but in the areas of manufacturing and health care, the space makes a huge difference," explains Sally Shields, information coordinator at Spoon River College, in Canton, Ill., which has two campuses, one built in 1972 and one housed in a former high school. The college was recently forced to shut down its welding program, partly because it lacked a proper space to hold the classes, says Ms. Shields.

     "Where I've worked, I've seen this is a major concern," says Harvey H. Kaiser, a consultant who specializes in campus-facilities management. "How do we update spaces built in the 60s and 70s for new methods of pedagogy?"

       If President Obama's legislation is enacted as planned, states will receive a share of the $5-billion based on their number of community-college students. The money would then be passed on to the institutions with the greatest needs, said Carmel Martin, the Education Department's assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, during a news conference in September.

Deferred Maintenance

      While many administrators say they will be grateful for whatever money comes through, some fear it will be only a drop in the bucket. "It wouldn't come close to fixing everything," says Mr. Allan, who estimates Victor Valley needs $100-million to fully upgrade its aging buildings. Between new construction and modernization, the nation's community colleges have reported $100-billion in facilities needs, according to the community-college association.

      "There's been so much deferred maintenance," says Debbie L. Sydow, president of Onondaga Community College. "This legislation is really coming at a perfect time for us." Onondaga also needs an estimated $100-million to properly renovate its campus, according to a recent needs assessment for State University of New York institutions. Ms. Sydow thinks her college is "probably in better condition" than many other SUNY community colleges.

      This isn't the first time that community colleges have been encouraged by promises of money from the federal government. Shortly after his inauguration, in 2009, President Obama proposed a $12-billion plan to rebuild outdated community-college facilities.

      That program, known as the American Graduation Initiative, also sought to increase the percentage of students who graduated from two-year colleges and continued on to four-year institutions, to improve remedial education, and to forge stronger ties between colleges and employers. But the plan fell apart during negotiations, and the final bill left colleges with only $2-billion for a career-training program under the Department of Labor.

      Many administrators fear the American Jobs Act may end up the same way as the American Graduation Initiative—with little left in the hands of community colleges.

     "I sometimes see these federal programs with a jaundiced eye," says Victor Valley's Mr. Allan, after noting a building outside his office window that desperately needs a new roof. "Whether or not the money will actually get to us? I'll believe it when I see it."

High Stakes

‘Whale Wars’ volunteer to speak about Antarctic voyages at VVC




VICTORVILLE • He knew it was risky to venture out into the icy Antarctic seas, where violent storms create swells as high as 50 feet, sustained winds blow 60 mph and a crew man who falls overboard won’t survive 15 minutes in the 28-degree water.


Lincoln Shaw, 57, doesn’t consider himself a thrill-seeker, but rather a passionate animal rights crusader.


Shaw spent 81 days in the Antarctic with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an animal rights group known for using aggressive, confrontational tactics against Japanese whaling boats. Their unconventional methods are featured in Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars” TV show.


“I think most of us go down there with the understanding that it’s possible that we could die out there,” Shaw said. “I do it because if we can’t save the whales, which everybody seems to love, how are we ever going to be able to save any of the animals that are being overexploited here on our planet?”


On Tuesday, Shaw will share stories and photos of his anti-whaling voyages with the public at 11 a.m. in the Performing Arts Center of Victor Valley College.


To read more about “Whale Wars” and Shaw’s experience, see the full story in Monday’s Daily Press. Get the complete story every day with the “exactly as printed” Daily Press E-edition, only $5 per month! Click here to try it free for 7 days. To subscribe to the Daily Press in print or online, call (760) 241-7755, 1-800-553-2006 or click here.



College’s Presidential Candidates Forum Slated for April 20th at VVC

The college’s Presidential Search Committee has successfully completed its task and has recommended four candidates be move forward in the search process.  Committee chairs have recommended a Candidate’s Forum be held Wednesday, April 20 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.in the Student Activities Center, Rooms A, B   and C.  The forum will feature the first candidate at 1 p.m., the second candidate at 2 p.m., the third at 3 p.m., and the fourth candidate at 4 p.m. Each candidate will be given time to introduce themselves and answer question from students, faculty, staff, and the public.  The candidates, in no specific order, are:  Christopher C O’Hearn, Ph.D., Interim Superintendent/President Victor Valley College; Jan Muto, Ph.D., Former President, Riverside City College; Dale Paul Parnell Jr., Ph.D., Vice President Academic Affairs, Rio Hondo College; and Kindred I. Murillo, Ed.D., Vice Chancellor, Districtwide Administrative Services , Contra Costa Community College District.  Congratulations must be extended to the members of the committee for their hard work and dedication to the success of Victor Valley College.

50th Anniversary Memories – Tech-X 2010

On May 7th and 8th, 2010 there was a sustainability themed event at Victor Valley College called Tech-X. The community was invited to come out and learn about sustainability in the form of renewable energy, hybrid vehicles, green construction techniques, water conservation, water reclamation, recyclable materials and the forces that drive economic, social and political sustainability for the High Desert. There were displays of hydrogen powered vehicles, solar powered boats and a sterling engine (which runs off of the sun’s heat, not the emitted light). There was food, games, exhibits, contests and many activities including a solar powered boat competition. The whole event was free to the public. Look for this event to return in May, 2011!

VVC Adjusts Summer Class Offerings Due to State Budget Cuts


In another round of course reductions amid state budget woes, Victor Valley  College is slashing its summer session by about 40 percent, or 100 class sections, college officials said Monday.
The cuts to courses come as the college grapples with unfunded student enrollment growth   and millions of dollars in looming stat budget cuts.
The reduction in 2011 summer school courses will save an estimated $500,000 – a fraction of what college officials will need to cut to patch anticipated budget shortfalls, according to college spokesman Bill Greulich.
If Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to extend tax hikes by five years doesn’t pass, VVC could lose about $6.9 million. The state cuts fall closer to $2.5 million if the tax extensions make it to the ballot and secure voter approval.

Meanwhile, for the last few years the state has not funded VVC’s additional growth in students, with about 1,150 full-time equivalent students unfunded in the 2010-11 school year. Full-time equivalency translates to a single student taking 12 units or four students taking one three-unit course each.

Statewide, community colleges aren’t being funded for some 200,000 students, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. The Chancellor estimates 140,000 students were turned away from California community college campuses in 2009-10 because of course reductions, and it’s taking increasingly longer for current students to get the courses they need to make it to a four-year program.

In shrinking the summer session, VVC officials first worked to eliminate courses classified as electives, basic skills and non-credit courses that primarily serve enrichment purposes, Greulich said. The goal was to cut as few courses as possible tied to general education requirements, degree or transfer programs and certificate or job training

“Those students that are on a path to a degree or a certificate or transfer
or going to a job – we want to maintain those class sections that help them do that,” Greulich said.

To help address the dire budget straits, the VVC Budget and Finance Planning Committee met last week to review the budget for the next three years and discuss possible  solutions. The committee, comprised of faculty, classified employees, management and students, sent an e-mail to all VVC employees asking them to pitch revenue-generating ideas, “no matter how far-fetched.”

Committee Chair Peter Allan, a full-time business administration and economics professor, said he’s heard a few interesting ideas ranging in scope, from urging companies to “adopt” a professor by paying their salary and benefits to requiring faculty to pay for parking. He’s planning to meet again April 1 to discuss innovative ways to bring in money independent of the state.

“It’s going to take some major strategies and my goal is to try to avoid any layoffs from full-time employees, and I think we can do that,” Allan said.

Aside from the burden on students, Allan’s major concern is that trimming course offerings means losing valuable part-time professors.

“Over the years we’ve spent a lot of  time attracting some very well qualified part-time faculty, and when we start cutting back on those classes, we’re going to lose them and we won’t get them back and that will be a tragedy,” he said.

Allan noted that his department previously offered 12 summer classes; now they’re offering six. The 2010 summer session was reduced to a lesser degree, by 27 classes, before the 2010-11 winter session was eliminated. For the spring session now underway, 31 credit sections were cut and low enrolled classes were canceled.

Allan recalled that 10 to 15 years ago, VVC professors would struggle to fill some classes even to half capacity. For an online course starting in mid April, Allan has 45 students enrolled plus another 25 on a wait list.

Students with questions about their education plans are urged to visit the counseling center in person to make an appointment.