By SEAN SCULLY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa Junior College faces a series of long term challenges, but the improving economic climate and a growing base of private funding support has poised the institution for continued growth, President Frank Chong told members of the SRJC Foundation during his annual address on the state of the college.
“I still feel the state of the college is in a good place,” Chong said in his second address since becoming president last year. “Why? Because for 94 years we’ve been there for the community and every time we go to the community for support, you are there for us.”
State funding is slowly improving, thanks in part to Proposition 30, a 2012 ballot measure that is pumping more than $200 million per year into the community college system, he said. That will allow the university to restore 500 class sections next year, about a quarter of all the classes cut during the steep state budget cuts over the past five years.
The Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation has raised more than $20.6 million in the past five years to support SRJC students and the College. SRJC also received a one-time $6 million donation from an individual donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
That contribution alone has allowed the college to develop a program to assist college students who face personal or family emergencies that threaten their ability to finish school. It has also funded a “teaching fellowship” program, in which current faculty groom students interested in eventually returning as SRJC faculty members themselves.
That program addresses perhaps the most serious challenge facing the school, he said: about half of the faculty and staff, and about 90 percent of administrators, are eligible to retire. That points to a pressing need to recruit, develop, and retain younger staff members to replace the retirees.
“What I see is the renewal of our human resources, our human capital,” he said.
The other long-term difficulty is the age of many of the buildings on campus, some of which are more than 80 years old. Even after the construction of major new buildings in recent years, the average age of buildings on campus is 44 years.
“They’re reaching middle age and we’re having some infrastructure challenges: around roofs, around energy efficiency, around mold … how do we maintain the beauty of the classrooms that many of our students, most of our students, attend,” he said.
The college is taking a three-pronged approach to funding improvements and maintaining quality, he said: aggressively seeking state and federal grants, continuing to build the donor base among alumni and local businesses, and recruiting international students. Not only will international students bring diversity to campus, they pay higher fees that can be used to restore more class sections for local students, he said, a model used by several other community colleges around the state.
After his remarks, Chong presented the annual Presidential Medallion of Honor to long-time agriculture faculty member and dean Steve Olson. Olson attended SRJC as a student and returned in 1970 as one of the earliest faculty members of the fledgling ag program. He helped establish the Shone Farm, the college’s working agriculture facility near Forestville. The road leading to the 365-acre farm is named in his honor.
Olson, who retired in 2007, remains active at the college and in the community as a member of Rotary and on a variety of boards, including the county Chamber of Commerce and Harvest Fair.
“Just because I’ve retired and just because I’m getting the Presidential Medallion doesn’t mean you’re getting rid of me,” he joked with the crowd.