For nearly 90 years, West Hills Community College District has served the post-secondary educational needs of residents and employers in the central San Joaquin Valley. At our colleges in Coalinga, Lemoore and Firebaugh, we take 100 percent of everyone in our 3,500-square-mile district, where a majority of our population lives at or below the poverty line, unemployment is higher than the state average, and skills attainment is lower. We must change that, especially in the Central Valley with 12 percent of the state’s population but only 6 percent of the state’s bachelor’s degree holders. The state’s new funding formula is a step in the right direction: student-focused funding is about providing students who have faced barriers to success with additional support to achieve their goals. So what is West Hills doing beyond that to address these equity issues?
Guided by an incredibly stable governing board and its relentless pursuit of student success vision, West Hills is responsive, innovative and efficient. Our structure is different from traditional models. We fiercely advocate for the needs of district communities.
The state has recognized us with three Governor’s Awards for Innovation in the past four years; that is the highest number of awards earned by a multicollege district in the state. Our innovative Reg365 year-round scheduling system allows students to register for an entire year’s worth of classes, and our partnerships with Harris Farms, The Wonderful Co., Chevron and Bitwise training programs are moving students from the margins to the mainstream. Our credit for prior learning innovation gives students credit for what they already know, which then shortens the time to completion and reduces costs for our students. Our Open Educational Resources revolution saved our students nearly $300,000 in textbook costs. Our unique Presidents Scholars program funded 300 Valley students this year.
Our Farm of the Future in Coalinga has accelerated its focus on ag technology; our Westside Institute of Technology offers customized workforce training. We are diversifying our curriculum beyond degrees and certificates to focus on short-term credentialing and certifications for incumbent workers. Our state and federal grants have opened new windows of opportunities for our students, and our increased focus on rural economic development has elevated our role in the region, including a partnership with Fresno County for a shared library at our educational center in Firebaugh. We recently completed long-term educational and facility master planning. We will need your support to modernize our Coalinga campus and build new instructional facilities at our colleges.
Our present focus is the lack of reliable broadband services to rural communities on the west side of the Valley. Broadband wireless does not exist in rural California – without broadband, there is no wireless technology. Currently, broadband infrastructure funding programs and statutes focus on population density, which automatically eliminates rural California. We must use broadband to empower rural California, which means adding economic development funding, and we are finalizing a multidisciplinary solution. I have every confidence our 850 employees, anchored by excellent teaching faculty, believe in the Valley and believe in our students.
Stuart Van Horn is chancellor of the West Hills Community College District