Dianne Van Hook
Superintendent-President, College of the Canyons

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal City Editor

Sunday, December 7, 2003
(Television interview conducted Oct. 13, 2003)

Dianne Van Hook

    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal City Editor Leon Worden. The half-hour program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmaker is Dianne Van Hook, superintendent-president of College of the Canyons for the past 15 years. The following interview was conducted Oct. 13. Questions are paraphrased and some answers are abbreviated for length.

Signal: You're offering four-year classes at COC's University Center. Are you looking at COC turning into a four-year school?

Van Hook: I get asked that question all the time. College of the Canyons, as a community college, will never turn into a four-year college, because the charter for public education in the master plan that was written in 1960 indicated that there should be a community college within roughly 10 miles of every resident in the state of California.
    We know that's not possible when you get out into the woods in the northern California areas, but that's the general goal. So community colleges were established as separate entities in the late '60s and early '70s. College of the Canyons will always remain a public, two-year community college.

Signal: What's the goal with these four-year classes?

Van Hook: We're trying to remove one of the barriers that we see to individuals pursuing a higher education.
    When you have to juggle work and family and child care and travel out of the valley, for many people, that presents a barrier that's not a doable one. So people stop after College of the Canyons and have a break in their education until they can figure it out. Some never go back at all, and some go back later.
    All the research shows that when you stop, and start to go back later, it's a lot harder, because you have to relearn study habits, you have to relearn self-discipline, and you have to re-engage yourself in the learning process.

University Center

Artist's rendering of the future, permanent University Center complex on the COC campus.
    What we are attempting to do with the University Center — and we actually are doing it in the interim University Center — is, we are bringing partners in. We currently have eight colleges and universities — colleges that grant bachelor's degrees and/or master's and doctorates — and they are offering the upper-division and graduate-school curriculum in identified majors that are in high demand in the area.
    Those high-demand areas are determined by local businesses, and the education that they need for their employees, and also by our students and where their transfer patterns show that the majority of our students transfer into majors at other colleges. So we are making it available in the Santa Clarita Valley.
    It's not for everyone. For some, going away and living in a dorm and having the complete four-year experience is the right thing to do. But for many people, especially those students who have family responsibilities, who must work while they go to school, and/or who are reentry students, the University Center provides and option for them to get that bachelor's degree or master's degree that they need to become and remain gainfully employed. So it's a very exciting project for us.

Signal: In the 2003 graduating class, women outnumbered men by a 2-1 margin. Why?

Van Hook: That's a good question. I would say that in our community, that has to do with the fact that right now there is a teacher shortage in the state of California. One of the degrees that we are offering in the interim University Center is a degree in liberal studies which prepares people to go into the teaching field. As we all know, historically, the percentage of teachers has been predominantly women in the public educational system in California.
    We also have a very large nursing program. We have more than doubled our nursing program in the last three to four years and have plans to increase it even more in the next two to three years. As hard as we try to achieve a gender balance in the nursing field, a majority of people who choose nursing are also women. And they graduate, by the way. Those nurses get an AA degree in nursing and at graduation they wear their nursing uniforms and they also wear a white robe, and they receive an associates' degree in nursing. So they all go through graduation.
    I think that some of it may be because of the access to continuing education in those fields, but I also think that there tends to be, in community colleges, a trend, and the trend is that many women who chose to have families straight out of college, choose to stay home and raise their children until they get to be a certain age, and then when their kids get to be a certain age in school, they choose to come back. I think that there's a higher percentage of that population in Santa Clarita.

Signal: Are you seeing a lot of elderly graduates?

Van Hook: Elderly? Pray tell. What do you mean by elderly?

Signal: Like, above retirement age.

Van Hook: We always have a few graduates, every year, who are beyond 62 years old. The average age of our student population at College of the Canyons ranges, depending on the year, from 26 years old to 29 years old, which most people don't realize. That means for every 26-year-old, there is a 46-year-old. It all balances out. For every 18-year-old there is a 28-year-old. It all averages out. So our student population tends to be a little older in community colleges than the traditional four-year college and universities.
    We have a lot of reentry students. We have a lot of people who already have a bachelor's and a master's degree, perhaps one that they received back when you were told that a bachelor's degree, a four-year degree, was going to keep you employed for life. Of course we all know now that with technology changing the way that it is, and the workplace changing, that getting an education once is not enough. You have to continue to learn and continue to be educated. So we have a lot of returning students who are full-time professionals in our community.

Signal: Do you work with local businesses to determine what they need?

Van Hook: At College of the Canyons we started an effort, a commitment, about 1989, to work with local businesses and identify what their current and future training needs would be. At that time, we were just about ready to enter a recession — two recessions ago, two before this recent one — and unfortunately what had happened with a lot of businesses is, their training and retraining dollars were the first to go.
    College of the Canyons set about establishing our Employee Training Institute to try to develop customized training to fit particular businesses' needs. That's training that businesses would pay for themselves; it's not funded by the state. We were aware that the recession and then, of course, the earthquake, which caused another impact on local businesses and their dollars to put toward training, became more of a challenge. We aggressively went after Employment Training Panel funds at the state level.
    Employment Training Panel funds are set aside by a certain percentage of the unemployment insurance that every employer pays to the state of California. So we went after our first contract, and we've been getting additional ETP contracts. We just received another one for $733,000, and that's our fifth contract, which brings the amount of money that we've brought in through state dollars for training in just that one arena to over $2 million. (It has) enabled local employers to put their employees through training that is designed to make them current in that particular profession.

Signal: This training is done at the job site?

Van Hook: Training is done on the job site. In the aerospace industry, we have a very exciting project over in the (Valencia) Industrial Center. It's called the Manufacturing Education Center. It was spearheaded by Aerospace Dynamics International, which is a primary supplier to Boeing and Lockheed and just received a new Airbus contract.
    They came to us six years ago and said, "You know, we're having a serious challenge here, keeping our workers trained. This is what happens: We have a master's degreed engineer who needs to be trained on a new release of a particular software — it's called CATIA — every nine months. We bring in a trainer from IBM; we pay that trainer $180 an hour; he delivers 100 hours of training; and so now (the worker) is retrained to the tune of (an) $18,000 cost to the employer.
    "Down the road is another aerospace company. They come in, they know you're trained, they offer you a salary benefit plus a signing bonus, and out you walk, and out walks the $18,000 in training investment per employee."
    They were spending over $1 million a year in retraining their employees and they were seeing it walk right out the door. So they came to College of the Canyons and they said, "Would you please consider providing this training for us?" And we said yes we will.
    We weren't sure exactly what it was — there were no providers in the state of California — but we found out what it was, we got certified to do it, and then we went back to ADI, and that company provided the leadership to form a consortium of eight businesses. In four months' time, they brought together $3.5 million worth of resources and equipment — very high-intensity computers, $25,000 to $35,000 per terminal, CNC machines on the shop floor so the computer could communicate with the machine which would then cut the part and do the work — and from September to January, we put together a training project that is open to any business in the Santa Clarita Valley that wants to participate and have their employees trained.
    CATIA is used by Disney, it's used in the automobile industry, it's used in the motion picture industry, and it's used in the aerospace industry. It was a great way to be able to help them meet their training needs, help them receive more contracts — competitive contracts, bring more jobs to the Santa Clarita Valley, and help create business volume. It was a wonderful partnership.

Signal: What good is a two-year AA degree these days?

Van Hook: I'll offer you a fact and a personal opinion. The research shows that persons who receive an AA degree increase their earning power by 33 percent over the person who does not have an AA degree. So right there, from a personal perspective, in terms of employability and income, I think it has an impact.
    I think that the associate degree provides individuals with a great foundation from which they can then go on to receive their bachelor's degree. And College of the Canyons and our faculty and our staff do an amazing job in the transfer arena. There has been a recent study done at the state level which compares our progress at College of the Canyons, and each community college district's progress, to the system as a whole. During a four-year time period, College of the Canyons increased its transfer-prepared students, those ready to transfer, four-fold over the systemwide average, 400 percent. And we also increased three-fold the number of students that we actually transferred. So we take that responsibility very seriously.

Signal: Where do most graduates transfer? What are they studying?

Van Hook: I'm not sure what they're studying, because we don't ever know what happens to them with regard to their major, person to person, once they leave. But the vast majority of our students transfer to Cal State Northridge, a good number of them transfer to UCLA and USC, and then to all the other CSUs and UCs in the state. We have a percentage that transfers out of state, but it's a smaller percentage.

Signal: You've been offering classes at the Canyon Country Jo Anne Darcy Library, but you've got some grander plans for Canyon Country. What are they?

Van Hook: We have grand plans for Canyon Country. When we opened our Canyon Country Educational Access Center, the day we opened it, we had 1,000 students show. We only have four classrooms and a lab there.

Signal: What are those classes?

Van Hook: They're general education classes, a lot of computer classes, as well as English, math, history, psychology, sociology, the courses that someone needs for their general education transfer. So we know that the demand is there. The problem is, we're at 1,400 students right now, and we're at capacity unless we go all day Sunday and to midnight. So at the same time that we opened that center, we started a very lengthy process with the state of California to apply for approval to establish a permanent center in Canyon Country.

Signal: A separate college or a satellite campus?

Van Hook: A satellite campus with enough land that it could eventually grow into a permanent and second college.
    How it works is, you apply with a letter of intent, and then with a needs assessment, and it goes through the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, then it goes to the California Community College Board of Governors. When they say, "Yes, you have received approval for a center," we can go out and acquire the property. Then it's our responsibility to figure out how to get some temporary facilities on the property, once we've developed the site. When we reach a certain number of students, in this case 3,000, then the state will consider starting to fund us for permanent buildings.
    Once you have achieved a certain enrollment, then you can move from satellite-center status to campus status, and then when you've achieved another benchmark, you can be designated as a separate college.
    College of the Canyons was identified in 1991 in a study done by the chancellor's office as eventually being a three-college district.

Signal: By when?

Van Hook: By the year 2015. They indicated that we would need another campus in the eastern portion of our service area, and also in the northwestern portion of our service area. So we're moving forward now to seek state approval so we can pursue one of two parcels that have been recommended to us by our site selection committee.

Signal: Which are where?

Van Hook: Which are in the eastern portion of our service area, near Sierra Highway and Vasquez Canyon Road. There are two different sites ... we're doing environmental studies on the two pieces of property. Once we receive the state approval, then the board of trustees will make a decision on which piece of property they are going to purchase. Then it will be up to us to develop the site and to put up some instant buildings.

Signal: Will you need another bond measure for this?

Van Hook: I hope not. I believe that in our bond measure that was approved in November 2001, we listed site acquisition for a Canyon Country center as one of the projects. So to acquire the property, no, we're not looking at that.
    We've already acquired some portable buildings, thanks to the help of some of our elected representatives at the state level, and we will soon be relocating, magically, to Santa Clarita, about 30,000 square feet of portable space from a military base in California — excellent facilities, very good condition, need very little work — so we are lining up the steps so that when we actually acquire the property we can have an instant campus once the site is developed.

Signal: What has that $82 million bond measure been spent on so far?

Van Hook: So far the money has been spent on developing the architectural drawings for four new building projects, all of which will start within the next five to 14 months. We are going to be building a warehouse on campus; we are going to be building a music, dance, labs and classrooms building to support the Performing Arts Center; we are going to be building a 50,000-square-foot high-technology classroom and laboratory center; and we are going to be expanding our science laboratory and building a new science lecture hall building. All of those buildings are slated to go out to bid and break ground within the next 14 months.

Signal: What's the student population right now?

Van Hook: The student population changes every day. It's about 14,000 students right now.

Signal: How big is your service area?

Van Hook: It's contiguous with the William S. Hart (Union High) School District service area. It's all of Santa Clarita Valley. It's about 365 square miles.

Signal: The city kicked in some funding for the Performing Arts Center. Who's going to be able to use it? What's the deal?

Van Hook: The deal is that we are ahead of schedule on the construction. We anticipate that the construction will be done in February 2004. However, if you're familiar with construction, you never know what's going to occur, so we don't plan on having a full grand opening until the fall of 2004. We want to make sure we've worked out all the bugs (and that) all the equipment works. We'll be having some small events in there, later on in the spring of 2004...
    The city contributed $2.4 million. The city's money enabled us to build a second story, or a balcony, and add 500 seats.

Signal: How many seats will it have?

Van Hook: Its' going to be 950 seats. The state of California typically funds 450-seat theaters for the e purpose of instructional theaters on community college campuses. We were fortunate that about the time we finally succeeded in getting state funding for this project — which was a 31-year effort on the part of the district — that I was in a meeting with (former City Manager) George Caravalho and I happened to mention the Performing Arts Center.
    We had been in some joint discussions with the Hart district and the city about doing a bond measure together for projects. We realized that wasn't in the cards because we all needed more money than the bond measure would provide, and we all needed it individually. So we knew that was not going to be an option. And on the way out the door I said, "You know, one thing we all have in common is the Performing Arts Center, and if anyone would like to contribute money to this project, we can increase the seating capacity and have a center that will enable us to bring in programing that the community can really benefit from." So lo and behold, Mr. Caravalho picked that idea up, and I went to the City Council, made a presentation, one of my staff made a presentation a few weeks later, and the city agreed to support that project...
    For college productions, (450 seats is) perfect, but for community productions and major programming, almost 1,000 seats is much better. It also has another theater in the same building — it is an experimental theater, or theater in the round — and it can accommodate up to 120 individuals, so we can do two events going on at the same time.

Signal: Who controls the scheduling?

Van Hook: The college will do the scheduling, but per the arrangement that we have with the city, the city has a certain percentage of time that it can utilize the facility. It can either book acts in there that are going to be revenue-generating, and for the community, or it can book the time for local community groups. That was the original intent — that the city would be able to use some of that time for other arts groups in the area that needed a venue.

Signal: Switching gears: Football came back in 1998 after a multi-year absence —

Van Hook: 17 years.

Signal: This last year, COC was ranked No. 1 in the nation by JC Gridwire. What is COC's commitment to sports? Will football go away again?

Van Hook: I would certainly hope not. Not on my watch.
    I think in 1981, when football was eliminated, it was a victim of Proposition 13. Also, I don't believe that the population in this valley was really (big) enough to support it and to provide enough local athletes — which we always strive to do on all of our teams — to have a balance of local athletes, and certainly if more want to play, we want them on that team. I think that the timing was just not right. There were attempts to bring back football when I first started here in 1988, but once again, the committee that had been formed, a community-based committee, said there's not enough interest.
    In 1998, however, it was quite another story. The state had come out of the early '90s recession; the college had recovered from its earthquake damage; the state of California was booming in terms of population an and revenue; and the college was growing at 16 to 17 percent a year in terms of funding as well as in terms of its student population. Because that's how we get our funding — it's student-driven. And there was an interest in bringing back football. So we established a football feasibility committee.
    They met from Jan. 17 through, I believe it was the end of April, and they studied all the variables: Is there enough support in the community to provide the talent, the youth, who will play on this team? Is there enough community support to put people in the stands? Is the timing right? Can the college sustain the costs of program expansion over time? And I remember getting the committee's recommendation, and they recommended that we not only add football but (also) add women's soccer and women's golf, and I remember studying that recommendation and going to the board of trustees in May with a recommendation to do just that.
    All of our teams have done exceptionally well. Football has been amazing. There has never been, in the history of a community college team, a team that has gone to the playoffs five years in a row, especially a brand-new team. But our other teams have done well, too. Our women's golf team has been No. 2 in the state twice and won the women's championship in just their third year, with a lot of older women on the team, a lot of reentry women as well.
    I happen to believe that sports is one of those extracurricular activities that adds value to a campus. It also provides opportunities with students to become engaged in something they feel passionate about, just as some students choose to get involved in the HITE program, High-Intensity Transfer, or in Alpha Gamma Sigma, or in student government, or in music or band or orchestra or dance. For some, sports is that key that keeps them going. So I don't foresee College of the Canyons downsizing any of its programs, athletic or academic, in the foreseeable future.

Signal: COC bore some criticism when its football program recruited from out of town. Is there a commitment to recruit local athletes?

Van Hook: We always try to recruit local athletes, and I think that commitment to recruit local athletes starts in another way.
    Several years ago, the board of trustees took action to waive the enrollment fee for concurrently enrolled high school students. The number of high school students immediately jumped — who were taking classes while going to high school — from about 150 a semester to 800 to 900 a semester. Some semesters, now, we're up to 1,200 and 1,300 students who have one foot in high school and one foot at College of the Canyons. I think that has done a lot to familiarize local students with not only the quality of education that we offer, but (also with) the excitement on campus, and has created an outreach program to local students to consider College of the Canyons as their first choice. So we always have that commitment.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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