Editorials

University of Warwick could help answer region’s education needs

THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The Sacramento region is fortunate to have a research university as highly regarded as UC Davis and a campus like Sacramento State that churns out graduates in a wide range of professions. But for our long-term prosperity, we need more academic institutions to train skilled workers and keep and attract bright young people.

So while it’s nowhere near a done deal, the prospect of a new university in Placer County is exciting.

In a media tour last week, Nigel Thrift, vice chancellor and president of the University of Warwick in England, laid out an ambitious vision for a 6,000-student, world-class university that could be part of a higher education hub.

He made clear, however, that it won’t happen overnight. The timetable will be measured – a profile-building, public relations campaign until mid-2016, a few postgraduate courses starting in 2017 and the first undergraduates as soon as 2021. Once there’s an actual campus, it would start as a liberal arts college, with a stated goal of growing into a research university by 2030.

And the university could decide not to proceed to the next step if the numbers don’t work, according to the prospectus adopted by its governing body.

The campus would sit on 600 acres of mostly farmland west of Roseville donated by a nonprofit trust led by the family of prominent developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos. Homes and businesses would go on the rest of the 1,159 acres, with the trust contributing proceeds from selling that land for development, as well as soliciting donations, to pay for building the campus and to fund an endowment.

The site plan approved by Placer County calls for the university to go on the western part of the site and the development on the eastern side, closer to Roseville. Putting the homes closer to the city also boosts land owned by the Tsakopoulos family to the south that is not yet entitled for development.

Ideally, from a land-use and transit perspective, the university and housing would be flipped on the site so the campus is closer to Roseville. But it’s not a deal breaker.

And this is much better than Cordova Hills, the sprawling leapfrog development that Sacramento County supervisors shamefully approved in 2013. They gave the green light with only the promise of a university, not a concrete proposal.

Another issue with this new university is the trend in higher education toward building a bigger online presence instead of brick-and-mortar campuses, a direction amplified by the financial struggles of some colleges during the recession.

So why do University of Warwick officials believe there’s a future in opening a satellite campus halfway around the world?

Thrift told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board it’s a “great opportunity” to raise his university’s international profile and to plant its flag in the important economic and cultural mecca that is California. The university does have experience building from scratch. Not founded until 1965, it now has nearly 24,000 students and reached seventh in a 2008 government ranking of research excellence among U.K. universities.

Thrift envisions the Placer campus focusing on areas of strength for the University of Warwick, including data science, economics and engineering. The prime market to recruit undergraduates would be California.

That demand means there’s room for more than one new university in the region, Thrift says. And that could be crucial because Sacramento State also has visions of branching out to Placer County. It is working with Sierra College and the developers of Placer Ranch to revive decade-old plans for a satellite campus. A go-ahead will be up to the incoming new president and require approval from California State University trustees.

Next Economy, the regional jobs blueprint drafted by business leaders in 2013, identified higher ed as one of six “business clusters” with the most potential. Universities create good middle-class jobs and can stem the brain drain of students who leave for college and don’t come home.

If a successful university comes here with a British accent, that’s fine with us.

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