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Foundation Pushes For Four-Year Aniversity


This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press
Thursday, January 22, 2009.

Runner urges joint powers pact to reach school goal
Valley Press Business Editor

PALMDALE – The high desert needs a four-year university to prevent its youth from leaving the region, business and civic leaders were told Wednesday.

A four-year university is needed to provide education opportunities at home for the region’s youth, said George Passantino, interim executive director of the High Desert University Foundation, a group trying to establish such a school in the Antelope Valley. Passantino made the comments during a presentation about the foundation to the Palmdale Chamber of Commerce.

Passantino noted the region has a high-technology tradition in aerospace, but that students often have to leave the Antelope Valley to get the education to be qualified to work in such jobs.

“We know many of those kids don’t come back,” Passantino said. “We have a brain drain.”

According to its founders, the High Desert University Foundation can help the region speak with one voice by uniting political leaders as it pursues a four-year university. The foundation also can educate and galvanize the public about the need for higher education in the region, its supporters say.

While there is agreement on the need for a four-year university in the region, there is disagreement about how the achieve that goal. State Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, is backing a joint powers agreement to bring a college to the region.

“I still believe the best path to get there is a joint powers agreement with the local governments, the community college and the high school district,” Runner said. “What we hear from the (California State University) chancellor’s office is this is the best way to go.”

The region should build on existing Cal State programs that have more than 1,000 students in the Antelope Valley.

“You cannot ignore that we’ve got a toehold with the Cal State system,” Runner said.

Passantino said the location of a four-year university is still open to discussion, but he focused much of his presentation on a 640-acre site near California City owned by Strata Equity Group, which owns an additional 2,000 acres in the area. The company is very early in its plans for its property but is looking at a concept of a university town where people would live, work and shop within the same development.

Strata has a history with such a project. The company was involved in the late 1980s with the creation of California State University, San Marcos, north of San Diego. The company owned part of the campus site, a former chicken ranch.

Passantino is a partner in a public relations company whose clients include Strata.

Passantino said the concept the foundation is looking at involves using half the property for a traditional university campus. The other half would be for what he called “an incubator of knowledge,” a business park that would lease out space for research and development activities with ties to the university.

The revenue from the leasing of the business park would feed back into the university, Passantino said.

“We believe the public-private partnership has to be an element of this project,” Passantino said.

The foundation is trying to appeal to people in the Los Angeles, Kern and San Bernardino counties to support the call for a four-year university. The high desert portion of the three counties have much in common – large presence of aerospace and mining companies as well as a large military component to their economies.

The parties will have differences, but if a unified effort is not put forward, the region will lose out, Passantino said.

“If we don’t get over our differences, we’ll be looking at Cal State Redding or Cal State Palm Springs,” Passantino said. “We won’t be looking at Cal State Antelope Valley.”

Runner said he believes the foundation is clouding the issue of siting a campus by including San Bernardino County.

Runner also said the foundation’s focus on a large site for a campus is on the wrong track. The Chancellor’s Office is putting more of an emphasis on relationships with community colleges. The region should look at an effort in which there is just a need for a campus for upper division work, which could be established on many fewer acres.

“The goal is for students to stay in the Antelope Valley, attend school, graduate and work in the Antelope Valley,” Runner said. “You don’t need a large campus with a football team to do that.”

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