Placer official says multiple colleges could make county a higher-education hub

The regional demand for higher education is so great that a plan by a British university to build a 6,000-student campus west of Roseville is still viable even if Sacramento State makes good on its efforts to build its own Placer County satellite campus, project backers say.

The vibrant concentration of institutions of higher learning in Southern California was one of the reasons Warwick was attracted to Placer County, said Sir Nigel Thrift, of University of Warwick, the British institution planning the Placer campus.

“There is no reason you can’t have a whole series of institutions doing the same thing (here),” Thrift, the university’s vice chancellor and president, told The Sacramento Bee editorial board Monday.

Earlier this month, officials from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, announced that the school’s governing board had signed off on building a California campus on 1,159 acres of land donated by a partnership led by the family of Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, one of Sacramento’s leading land developers. The university, which serves 23,000 students in Coventry, aims to have 6,000 students in Placer by 2031.

The 1,159 acres is broken into two portions: The 600 acres to the west will become the campus, while the 559 acres between the proposed campus and Roseville city limits is being marketed for sale by the University Development Trust. Revenue from those land sales would support construction of the campus.

Warwick isn’t the only university considering expansion into Placer County. California State University, Sacramento, is looking at building a satellite on a spot south of Thunder Valley Casino, north and east of the Tsakopoulos land to be developed by Warwick. The city of Roseville is trying to attract community colleges to a building near City Hall.

Kirk Uhler, chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, said just as car dealerships found there was strength in numbers when forming the Roseville Automall, universities can see similar benefit.

“There is no reason we can’t have that same hub thing happen,” Uhler said.

The automall has Lexus and Hyundai – not everyone can drive a Lexus, he said. Tuition at Warwick’s Coventry campus is around $14,000 annually, but officials visiting Monday declined to put a number on what the school would charge here.

“The need exists. Warwick is a natural complement to what is already happening,” Uhler said.

Roseville officials also hailed the promises of a Warwick campus just west of the city border.

“Warwick’s presence is pivotal to the realization of the innovation corridor of higher education in Placer County, and its international reputation will raise the profile of our region on a much broader scale,” Roseville Mayor Carol Garcia said in an emailed statement.

“We know our residents are seeking excellent higher education opportunities in closer proximity, and businesses are locating in areas where they can find the skilled workforce they need,” Garcia said. “This dynamic will expand opportunities for graduates to stay in Placer County.”

About 115,000 of the region’s 18- to 24-year-olds attend college, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s half of the local residents in that age group, higher than the statewide college-going rate of 46 percent among young adults.

University of California and California State University admission numbers suggest the demand exists, said Hans Johnson, a researcher with the Public Policy Institute of California.

“Increasingly, students who are technically eligible are not getting in,” Johnson said, noting that he had not studied the University of Warwick plan and did not know how competitive it would be.

Seventeen of the state’s 23 California State University campuses have more eligible applicants than available enrollment slots. Such campuses adopt more stringent requirements to make enrollment decisions. It’s even harder for qualified California students to enroll in a UC campus, where all but the Merced campus have too few enrollment slots for all the qualified applicants, Johnson said.

The state college master plan, created 50 years ago, was designed to provide a public higher education for the top one-third of the state’s students. But Johnson said more than the top third want to attend college these days.

Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, co-president and board chair of the University Development Trust, said his father was proud to support additional educational opportunities.

“We want as many options for students as possible,” Tsakopoulos said.

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch. The Bee’s Phillip Reese contributed to this report.