California’s 114 community colleges are a linchpin of our public higher education system, but too often they’re overlooked and underfunded. In many cases, colleges have to ask local taxpayers to pay for major renovations and new construction.
That’s what Sierra College is doing with Measure E on the June 5 ballot. The $350 million bond issue is worth voters’ support.
The bond would be repaid from an additional property tax in the college district – about $17 per $100,000 of assessed value, or about $60 a year for the average homeowner. The district includes voters in all of Placer County except Truckee, the Antelope area in Sacramento County and a slice of northern El Dorado County. To pass, the measure takes 55 percent of the vote.
The needs are clear. The main campus in Rocklin opened in 1961 with about 1,500 students and is now bursting at the seams with more than 20,000. With the bond money, 10 original buildings would be modernized. A new science building would be constructed, helping clear a bottleneck in science and math classes. Money would also go to a new regional public safety training center. College officials say that none of the money will be used for staff or administration and that a local oversight committee will make sure it is spent as promised.
If the measure fails, the college would have to wait for state money. While voters approved Proposition 51 in 2016 that included $2 billion for community college construction statewide, that money has been trickling out slowly. Meanwhile, other college districts aren’t waiting. Ten of 12 bond issues passed in 2014. Fifteen of 16 were approved in 2016.
The state community college chancellor’s office has given its blessing to Sierra College’s bond issue. Like other colleges, Sierra is a regional gateway to higher education for students who are not financially or educationally ready for a four-year university. About 70 percent of students come from Placer, El Dorado and Nevada counties, and another 25 percent from Sacramento County. Most students who transfer to a four-year school go to Sacramento State, UC Davis, Chico State and William Jessup.
Some students are the first in their family to go to college – including 56 percent of the 750 students from 15 area high schools who will be on campus April 20 with the Sierra Promise program, which offers counseling and priority registration so they can hit the ground running in the fall.
Sierra’s impact goes far beyond its students. The college employs 530 with an annual payroll of $85 million and has an economic impact of an estimated $180 million a year.
It’s up to Sierra officials and supporters to convince voters that a strong college is crucial to the region’s workforce and economy and is worth the additional investment. It’s not an easy sell, but it’s the right one.