January 5, 2023
To achieve her dream of becoming a teacher, Visalia native Jessica Lopez assumed a lengthy commute to Fresno State was in her future. But attending the university’s satellite South Valley Campus in Visalia means her commute to class is 10 minutes, rather than an hour.
“I feel like this is one of the best decisions that I’ve made,” said Lopez. “The campus is so accessible.”
This November, Tulare County voters approved a $95 million ballot measure to build a new and much expanded university center in Visalia across the street from College of the Sequoias. It means that many more students like Lopez will be able to get their bachelor’s or even master’s degrees without leaving town.
Right now Fresno State operates in just four satellite classrooms owned by College of the Sequoias at its South Valley Campus in Visalia. The new University Center, expected to break ground in 2025 and open in 2027, will represent a major expansion of university-level offerings for Tulare and Kings counties even if it is not a full CSU campus. Brent Calvin, superintendent president of College of the Sequoias, describes it as a “mini CSU.”
Greg Collins, a recently retired Visalia City Council member, can remember discussions about courting a university as far back as the 1970s. The most high-profile bid was when Visalia lost out to Merced as the location of the newest University of California campus. Decades later, there was not even a CSU satellite on the horizon. That makes Tulare and Kings counties one of the largest-population areas in the state — with over 630,000 people — without a full-fledged university.
“It’s a big deal for Visalia,” Collins said of the new funding and plan. “It’s something we were working on for generations.”
The newest full-service CSU campus, Channel Islands, opened in 2002. The last time that CSU formally considered opening a 24th campus, Tulare County was not in the running. When the state Legislature began to look into the issue in 2019, booming population centers had an edge over remote rural areas where transfer rates are low. The 2020 study ultimately concluded that there wasn’t enough enrollment growth to warrant the cost of a new campus anywhere in the state. This, combined with the uncertainty in the early days of the pandemic, killed the bid for a new campus.
Compared with most other parts of the state, relatively few residents in the region College of the Sequoias serves have bachelor’s degrees. In California, 35.3% of adults over 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, per census data. In Tulare County and neighboring Kings County, that number is just 15%, among the lowest in the state.