Government / Politics

OPINION: What’s the plan for Gavilan College in SBC?

More than a decade after voters approved Gavilan's Measure E, there have been no real educational infrastructure improvements in San Benito County

The recent opening of the Gavilan College Coyote Valley campus in south San Jose also opens old wounds for San Benito County. By now, everyone should be familiar with the story of the $108 million Measure E bond approved by voters in 2004 — part of which was supposed to bring to Hollister a thriving campus that instead ended up elsewhere.

That decision is likely to adversely impact San Benito County for another 20 years or more. Gavilan’s goal is to make the Coyote Valley into full-service community college campus, accommodating up to 10,000 students. Doing so will require a lot of state funding and a local match and any capital going into that project will not be available elsewhere.

The lingering question is, disregarding the Coyote Valley project, how has Gavilan been serving San Benito County? Unfortunately, most of the decisions have been neutral or negative; the lack of available infrastructure limits what the college can do to move ahead even if it wanted to.

One of the biggest changes occurred in 2010 when Gavilan took its Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program offerings away from Hollister Airport, eventually ending up in San Martin — which is also in Santa Clara County — ostensibly over a proposed rent increase. They eventually got a new hangar built just for them to lease at that location; money talks.

When it left, the AMT program offered a whopping 35 units, 12 classes a week, 1,100 hours of class time and two independent study courses a semester. Going on seven years later, it’s been impossible to make that up.

There are really three ways to look at community college offerings, subjects, classes and credits: Popular (busy) subjects may have several classes on the same subject to provide adequate space for interested students, credits work to transfer and/or a formalize training and non-credit classes can fill holes in education or help fulfill a student’s personal aspirations.  

One of the major shifts in local offerings has been additional non-credit courses. Current offerings for Spring 2017 include 45 credit courses on 35 subjects and 13 non-credit courses.

Ten of the non-credit courses are in English as a Second Language (ESL). Those range from preparing for the United States citizenship test to learning computer skills; the target population for those programs appears to be adults, not recent high school graduates.

The number of core English and mathematics classes is up since 2004, but the selections are wide rather than deep, concentrating on the entry level. This appears to be filling a need. For instance, there are four offerings of English 250 (Practical Writing) on the Spring 2017 Hollister schedule and all four are fully booked.

As far as Gavilan’s future expansion in San Benito County, the only alternative currently in view is the difficult one of a build-to-lease arrangement with a developer, but that requires a long-term commitment from both parties and it not clear that it is economically viable.

Until and unless that comes about, the probability of attaining the goal of providing a comprehensive two-year, degree-producing program within the county’s borders is remote.

Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.