Holding down a job + maintaining a family + commuting to school = a recipe for defeat for many college students.
Most students taking classes at Merced College's satellite campus in Los Banos would not be going to college if they had to drive into Merced, said John Spevak, former instructor and dean of the Los Banos Center.
"Without it, they wouldn't have been able to," he said.
As Modesto Junior College embarks on a similar satellite campus in Patterson, Los Banos campus leaders offered advice on how to establish a thriving site: Look for partnerships with public agencies such as schools; understand the needs of the community so classes can be tailored to them; and hire full-time instructors dedicated to that campus.
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Founded in 1971, the Los Banos campus recently moved into its new digs off Highway 152 five miles east of Interstate 5. The two-building site serves about 1,000 students from Los Banos, Newman, Gustine, Dos Palos, Santa Nella, Firebaugh and Merced. The center is 40 miles -- as long as 60 minutes' driving time -- from Merced College.
Most satellite centers start with a handful of evening classes at high schools. As interest grows, programs, services and facilities expand.
"If I had advice, it'd be to get started," said Karyn Wiens, dean of the Los Banos Center. "We're in the middle of a field, but if you build it, they will come."
Most of California's community colleges offer classes in outlying areas at high schools, apartment complexes or downtown locations.
MJC and Columbia College officials are pursuing satellite sites in Patterson, Oakdale, Turlock and Calaveras County. Patterson is the furthest along, with about seven property owners offering land, buildings or both. Administrators will narrow down options to the top one or two plans in a few weeks.
It's impossible to offer every program found at the main campus, but satellite sites do serve a purpose. Although students may not be able to get all of their units to transfer or to earn a degree at the satellite center, people benefit from the opportunity, said Anne Newins, Merced College vice president of student personnel and former dean at Los Banos.
"Even if they take a few classes, they'll see an increase in their salaries," she said.
What to look for
Coordinate with the state, county and education organizations. The Los Banos campus works with the Merced County Office of Education, and they plan to build the site's child development center together, Wiens said.
"Partnerships are critical. You can't do it by yourself; state funding won't do it," she said.
Knowing the community is key. Los Banos campus officials suggested meeting with city councils, school districts, work force development leaders and similar community groups.
"You need to understand what your community needs are, not just assume that what might work in Madera would work in Merced," Newins said.
MJC officials are working on Educational Master Plans for all four satellite sites.
School bonds help fund construction that community col- leges can't afford. Planners spent time in Los Banos before asking voters for a construction bond. MJC officials will use $5 million from Measure E to develop Patterson's site.
"Listen to the community's needs. Try to do for the commu- nity what you can with the dollars you have," Spevak said.
Community colleges rely heavily on part-time instructors. Los Banos campus leaders said it is important for a satellite site to employ full-time instructors that teach only at that campus, even if it's a small group. They'll help the campus feel like a community, Spevak said.
The Los Banos Center has 13 full-time teachers and 60 part-timers, Wiens said.
"It's about finding good teachers, people that could teach a number of different subjects," Spevak said. One of the first instructors at the Los Banos site in 1971, Spevak taught English, from basic literacy to Shake-speare.
In smaller cities, officials need to work harder to find enough quality faculty, he said.
One of the Los Banos Center's strengths is offering a full array of student services. Students can pay school bills, apply for and receive financial aid, buy textbooks, get counseling and tutoring, and study in the library. All services have limited hours and staff, and food is supplied by vending machines, but every little bit helps, Wiens said.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.