Marymount California University in Southern California will soon begin a feasibility study of Visalia for offering bachelor’s degree programs, which local boosters say could evolve into the first traditional four-year college in city history.
The $25,000 study is expected to begin this week and be completed by late spring, said Robert Aguilar of Visalia, a retired Delano schools superintendent who is spearheading local efforts to help Marymount.
“I’ve always felt Visalia is the appropriate place to have a university,” he said. “It’s a beautiful community, the lifestyle is outstanding. You have Fresno and Bakersfield, they have a university, why not Visalia?”
To fund the feasibility study, Aguilar raised more than $25,000 from local supporters, with donations ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. The city donated $5,000.
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Getting a four-year college has long been a goal in the city, whose population is now more than 130,000, said Council Member Greg Collins.
Fresno and Bakersfield, they have a university, why not Visalia?
Robert Aguilar, Visalia resident
“It would sort of reverse some of the brain drain that occurs,” he said. Furthermore, “it does add a little prestige to the community.”
Marymount California University – not to be confused with Loyola Marymount University – is a private, Catholic, nonprofit college based in Rancho Palos Verdes. It has two campuses in Los Angeles County and one in Lake County.
Formerly a two-year college, it now offers bachelor’s and graduate degrees, including an MBA.
More than 30 percent of its students are Hispanic, many of them first-generation college students, the university said.
The Visalia study will explore the potential for Marymount to offer bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice and business, the university said.
“The study is the initial step in the consideration of bringing higher education to Visalia,” the university said in a statement.
Marymount California University is a private, Catholic, nonprofit college based in Rancho Palos Verdes.
A researcher selected by the university will review regional data and economic development reports, hold two four-hour workshops with community leaders, and conduct 10 to 15 individual interviews with leaders in education, government, churches, business and agriculture.
Currently, there is no “start to finish” four-year college between Visalia and Bakersfield, although some have programs in Visalia. Fresno Pacific University has a regional campus in west Visalia that serves working adults taking evening classes to complete their college educations.
In 2014, Aguilar hosted a meeting in Visalia between Marymount leaders and business, government and education leaders.
The university expressed interest in the area’s higher education potential and need for four-year degrees. The study was supposed to happen last year, but a change in leadership at Marymount caused a temporary delay, Aguilar said.