The City of Arvin is donating more than 32 acres of land Thursday to the Kern Community College District, clearing the way for the district to build a satellite campus in the city, something community members have been rallying around for years.
The plot of land, located across the street from Arvin High School and beside Grimmway Academy, has long been talked about as the potential site of a Bakersfield College center in the farming town, akin to what KCCD has established in Delano.
If approved Thursday, KCCD would be required to build an educational facility on the property within five years, or turn the property back over to Arvin. The city would waive all planning fees in exchange.
“This is the most ideal situation you could ask for for the higher educational needs of those communities now and for the foreseeable future,” KCCD Trustee Bill Thomas said.
In the meantime, students have been taking night college courses at Arvin High School, where KCCD has been renting classroom space. Almost 900 students enrolled in courses there last year, and enrollment at Arvin High, which peaked at 2,500 this year, has been growing every year since 2012.
“It’s time,” Thomas said. “Arvin High is busting at the seams.”
An educational facility would be a boon to Arvin, which struggles with some of the county’s lowest levels of educational attainment.
Arvin residents say they face transportation challenges that make it difficult for them to travel 25 miles to Bakersfield College, but that’s not the only barrier. Teens graduating from high school don’t see college as a viable option because they don’t have educational role models in their families, said Arvin City Councilwoman Jazmin Robles, who teaches at Arvin High School.
“We don’t have a lot of people who have come from Arvin and gone out and gotten an education, so they see all the people who work in the oil fields or work in agriculture,” Robles said. “They don’t go to the dinner table and talk about colleges and opportunities.”
Arvin ranks among the least educated regions of Kern County, behind Wasco and Lost Hills. Just 2.4 percent of Arvin’s population, or roughly 233 people, held bachelor's degrees in 2015, U.S. Census Bureau figures show. Fewer than 3,300 of Arvin’s 9,721 residents had graduated from high school.
“In terms of economic opportunity for people who are low-income and impoverished, education is the fastest way to a middle-class job and achieving what you believe is the American dream,” Arvin Mayor Jose Gurrola said.
Retired KCCD Chancellor Jim Young, who has called Arvin home since being born in 1939, said he has lived through three major changes in the town: first was in 1949, when Arvin High School was constructed. Before then, students were bused to Bakersfield High School. Second was in 1960, when the town incorporated and became a city.
The third, Young said, would be the construction of a college center.
“Getting a college in Arvin is going to change dramatically the perception of Arvin and how people view Arvin,” said Young. “Companies now when they look at considering moving to Arvin – if they know there’s a place to get trained employees – that’s a big plus for them moving here.”
Despite how promising it appears, Gurrola, who has rallied for the campus, remains wary because nothing is yet set in stone.
“This is the next step to make it a reality, but just because they take the land doesn’t mean they’ve decided to build it,” Gurrola said, adding, however, “it is a pretty good indication that they will.”
The district has committed to projects in the past that have gone unfulfilled.
KCCD acquired 126 acres from Bolthouse Properties LLC in 2007, more than half of which was donated by Bolthouse. Developers planned to turn that swath into a master-planned community integrating homes and college facilities serving communities in South Kern, but it hasn’t come to fruition. The district now leases its portion to almond growers for long-term income, KCCD Trustee Kyle Carter said.
Building a college center in that location wouldn’t serve Arvin well, Carter added.
“You’re asking them to drive 10 miles outside of town to go to college to better their lives, and a lot of those people don’t have cars, a lot of them are single parent households so any kind of travel at all makes it very, very difficult,” Carter said.
Thomas, however, said the Arvin project would be fulfilled.
“We have the land and we have the finances, and so, there should be no question after the vote of the board to accept the Arvin resolution that there will be a Bakersfield College Arvin Center directly across the street from the high school,” Thomas said.