El Dorado County is on the hunt for a four-year college that will open a campus within the rural county, hoping to give students an opportunity they now can only find elsewhere.
A four-year campus would benefit both students and the community, backers said this week, reducing the time students often spend commuting and improving opportunities for students to remain close to home. County leaders say El Dorado is a prime venue for studying natural resources, tree genomics and related fields, some of which is already underway.
The effort gained steam last spring when a group led by Treasurer-Tax Collector Cherie Raffety sought to convince UC Davis to establish a campus there. This week, county supervisors supported a broader search that includes other four-year institutions, she said.
“It’s smarter for us to cast a wider net, to see who really wants to be in El Dorado County for a good match,” Raffety said. “We’re looking for a highly rated college that would bring synergies with what’s already existing in El Dorado County.”
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A four-year college, she said, would enable students in nearby two-year colleges to finish their work at a four-year institution without traveling outside the area.
We’re publicly saying we’re supportive of this, UC Davis or anyone else. This legislative body, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, is on board in helping lay the foundation for making this happen.
Board President Ronald Mikulaco
El Dorado County Board President Ronald Mikulaco said the county will look at all possibilities, “potentially a junior college or any other college, four years or two years. We’re not limited to working with just UC Davis.
“We’re publicly saying we’re supportive of this, UC Davis or anyone else,” Mikulaco said. “This legislative body, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, is on board in helping lay the foundation for making this happen.”
He said the county has “all the ingredients” to attract a college.
“You need quite a bit of land. That’s tough to come by,” Mikulaco said. “Secondarily, you need to be near public transportation. We have a very good transit system. In the El Dorado Hills area, you’re within three to four exits of Rancho Cordova and Folsom. It would be a home run for everybody.”
El Dorado County has two higher-education campuses, both offering community college courses. Lake Tahoe Community College on the south shore of the lake has 4,000 to 5,000 students enrolled each year. The other campus is the 2,185-student El Dorado Center in Placerville, a satellite of Folsom Lake College.
Mikulaco said a friend recently complained to him that he was unable to get the classes he wanted at California State University, Sacramento, or at Folsom Lake College. “Those classes were full,” Mikulaco said. “Clearly there is a market here, from what I’ve seen and heard.”
Folsom Lake College and other community colleges had to turn away students from some classes during the recession. But more space has become available as state funding has increased, the number of high school graduates has declined and more students have found jobs.
Folsom Lake College spokeswoman Kristy Hart said the El Dorado Center hasn’t seen the demand that county officials suggest is there.
“We’ve seen a decrease in our El Dorado Center,” she said. “We’re just trying to keep that one site open. We’re not seeing growth there, like we’d like.”
Raffety does not think that reflects lower demand in El Dorado County. She noted that community college enrollment in general declined after state leaders prohibited students from repeating recreational courses such as art and dancing.
The county is continuing work on a presentation for UC Davis in the coming months, she said. “We know that may or may not come to fruition.” But, she said, “We are still diligently working toward that. It would be the crown jewel to get UC Davis.”
The region already has a wide variety of programs appropriate for university-level study, she said, including forest genetics work conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and UC Berkeley studies involving the genetics of trees.
UC Davis also has Tahoe Environmental Research Center with a lab in Incline Village, Nev., and a field station in Tahoe City, in neighboring Placer County.
The next step, she said, is to cultivate interest from corporations or residents willing to bequeath or donate land to establish a university.
That’s an approach already underway at Lake Tahoe Community College, a 164-acre campus that in fall 2018 expects to complete a stand-alone university center financed with a $5.8 million donation from an individual Nevada resident.
College Superintendent Kindred Murillo said the Tahoe college already is in discussions with UC Davis to house undergraduate and graduate degree programs at the center. The college submitted its proposal to UC several months ago in line with the UC campaign to “Envision the University of the 21st Century.”
Murillo said it is not a proposal that competes with El Dorado County’s effort.
“We think the great place to start would be an environmental policy analysis program,” Murillo said Wednesday. “It’s just a great match for the Tahoe Basin.”