On Friday, March 1, officials from California Lutheran University took a tour of Tracy with City Manager Leon Churchill and several local business leaders, hearkening back to a 2007 idea to bring several university extensions to the city as part of a college consortium.
That effort fizzled when the economic downtown bottomed out in 2008. But Churchill said Cal Lutheran’s visit has returned the idea to the forefront.
“I think we’re still looking at a variation of that (consortium),” he said Wednesday, March 6. “I think, long-term, the community will be greatly served by a handful of institutions.”
Right now, however, Churchill said city officials are talking with only Cal Lutheran — a private university affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
It has 2,804 undergraduate and 1,401 graduate students between its main campus in Thousand Oaks and satellite campuses in Oxnard, Woodland Hills and Santa Maria. The annual tuition is $33,910, according to its website.
Its strategic plan calls for university leaders to “develop new sites for graduate and non-traditional undergraduate programs to accommodate the planned enrollment growth” away from the main campus.
Karin Grennan, Cal Lutheran’s media relations manager, confirmed Monday, March 4, that university President Chris Kimball and board of regents Chairman Rod Gilbert were among those in town to consider Tracy as a location for a satellite campus.
She said it was the second time since the fall that university officials visited Tracy, though Grennan said they have not committed to anything.
“At this point in time, we’re not pursuing any kind of expansion in the Tracy area,” she said. “We’re exploring the possibility — we keep our eyes open for anywhere we can establish a presence.”
Churchill remained “cautiously optimistic” about the city’s chances to partner with Cal Lutheran.
Though there is no timeline for a decision, he said the repeat visit shows that “at some level there’s an emotional commitment to this community.”
Churchill also said the university’s “market research” to see how many people would attend a potential Tracy campus would likely reveal ample demand in and around Tracy.
He cited a 2012 Brookings Institution study that found that 36 percent of January and February job openings within San Joaquin County sought candidates with a bachelor’s or more advanced degree, but only 18 percent of the area’s total workforce had completed college.
“The type of economy and jobs that are coming require education in that level, but there aren’t enough people (with that type of degree),” he said. “The area with the biggest disparity of where the jobs are going to be and not having enough (educated) people is San Joaquin County.”
Churchill said a university in Tracy would fit “hand and glove” with the city’s economic development efforts and that Cal Lutheran’s slate of majors and programs align with anticipated areas of job growth in Tracy, especially health services and logistics.
It could also benefit the city in other ways, he said.
“There’s an economic argument for higher education, and some will give you a quality of life argument,” Churchill said. “Universities bring arts, culture, speakers series — all those things people in the community can enjoy, also.”
Whether or not Cal Lutheran settles on Tracy as its next satellite location, Churchill said it’s “highly likely” city leaders will continue to court college suitors.
“When you get one it makes it easier, because then you start looking at universities that complement what you already have,” he said. “But you need to start somewhere. You need an … anchor.”
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 835-3030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.