Arvin, among the most economically depressed communities in the state, is on the verge of a breakthrough: access to higher education. Arvin has been pushing for a Bakersfield College satellite campus in the town center for a decade now, and on Thursday the Kern Community College District formally signaled its willingness to oblige them.
KCCD board members voted to move forward on a proposal to acquire 32 acres from the city’s now-defunct redevelopment agency (meaning, essentially, it’s state-owned land) for a new campus. Officials must still navigate a few legal details before the transfer can take place, but all parties are on board.
It’s impossible to overstate the new campus’ potential to effect positive change in a region so impeded by high unemployment, language barriers, rampant poverty and simple geography. BC’s main campus is 25 miles away, and many of Arvin’s would-be students have transportation issues.
Arvin ranks among the least educated places in Kern County, and Kern happens to be one of California’s least educated counties. 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.
The patch of land in question, across the street from Arvin High School and adjacent to the Grimmway Academy, has been on the table as the potential site of a Bakersfield College center, similar to BC’s Delano campus, since at least 2007. KCCD officials had long pushed for another site at Highway 99 and Bear Mountain Boulevard, 10 miles from Arvin, but they wisely listened to leaders in the farming town.
Once the land deal is done, the 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.
Arvin residents clearly hunger for higher learning. Almost 900 students were enrolled last year in night college courses at Arvin High School, where KCCD has been renting classroom space. As KCCD trustee Bill Thomas said earlier this month, for Arvin, which struggles with some of the county’s lowest levels of educational attainment, it’s time.
It’s not just time for Arvin, though. Kern County’s binary economy, driven by oil and agriculture, needs an educational jolt, and not just so its two core industries can find reinforcements. The Kern County economy must diversify, and educating our homegrown talent is an important way to do it.
An initiative called The University Promise, announced last month, also targets that objective. Under the plan, each of the 10,000 students projected to graduate with the Kern High School District’s 2022 class will be guaranteed admission to Cal State Bakersfield if they meet a set of requirements.
These are two steps in the right direction. Local leaders in education and economic development must keep the momentum alive and be receptive to other, new ideas to make opportunities for higher learning ever more accessible and affordable.