Press - 06/29/2016

Building a Better Future

Jerry Borja’s eight years in the Marine Corps included tours of Iraq and Afghanistan during which he protected, treated and transported wounded military personnel. Back at home, like the 1,500 or so other veterans and active-duty members now enrolled at MiraCosta College, Borja has found the support he needs at the Veterans Information Center, a center equipped with computers, counselors, couches and conference rooms.

“The services MiraCosta College provides to veterans are outstanding – a lot better than what I hear from veterans at other campuses,” said Borja. “MiraCosta really is looking out for us; the professors, staff and counselors are very open and willing to have that one-on-one conversation with you and make sure you are getting what you need to be successful. And the veterans center is where it all comes together.”

Which is why MiraCosta College is looking to expand and improve the Veterans Information Center to include more job training, placement and counseling and other support services to accommodate the growing number of veterans and active-duty military and their families attending the Oceanside Campus.

Those plans are part of a much larger strategic vision that would allow MiraCosta College to remain a vital resource for veterans, the local economy, and the community.

Record enrollment and growing student demands have put a strain not only in the highly utilized Veterans Information Center, but also in the burgeoning allied health program, career training programs in science, healthcare, technology and skilled trades, and on dozens of outdated classrooms at both the Oceanside and San Elijo campuses.  

Yet even though 1 in 3 local high school graduates will enroll at MiraCosta College, it remains the only community college district in San Diego County that has not seen a bond measure approved in more than a half century, forcing administrators to postpone myriad improvements.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we have to deliver the facilities and programs to meet the educational needs of the community,” said Charles Ng, MiraCosta College’s vice president of Business and Administrative Services.

Due to limited funding, MiraCosta is able to work on only small portions of its facilities plan.  Using this strategy, it would take the MiraCosta 50 years to complete all the needed modernizations, renovations and improvements. Besides an expanded veterans center, those improvements include:

•    Upgrading career technical facilities for science, health care, technology and skilled trades;

•    Updating instructional technology for improved student learning in core subjects such as math, science and technology;

•    Improving access for students with disabilities;

•    Repairing or replacing leaky roofs, worn-out floors and restrooms, deteriorating plumbing and faulty electrical systems;

•    Updating science centers and labs to allow for state-of-the art courses in biology, chemistry and other physical sciences.

Needed campus improvements aside, MiraCosta College continues to position itself as a local leader in workforce development. Last spring, the college celebrated the opening of a new Technology Career Institute in a city-owned building in Carlsbad where displaced workers are trained in areas ranging from high-tech manufacturing to maritime technology.

MiraCosta College also boasts one of the highest transfer rates to the University of California. Nearly half “of all MiraCosta College transfer applications to the UC system in the fall of 2016 were for STEM majors,” said Lise Flocken, a counselor at and faculty director of the MiraCosta College Transfer Center. “This is a smart move for students, considering that San Diego County is one of the top three life-science clusters in the country, and we know that after they graduate about 85 percent of our students will return to this region to build their careers and raise their families.”

Last year, MiraCosta College secured the green light from the California Community Colleges’ Board of Governors to host a pilot baccalaureate program in the burgeoning field of biomanufacturing. The program is aimed at preparing students to work in the thriving manufacturing sector of the biotechnology industry, including technical and quality assurance/control-related positions. Several area biotechnology companies supported the MiraCosta College effort, and the college will begin accepting student applications in the fall of 2016, with the first cohort of 30 juniors enrolling in the fall of 2017.

“There's no better statement of our commitment to being a conscientious community partner than pursuing this degree on behalf of our local industry to provide an unmatched educational experience that speaks directly to their workforce needs in biotech manufacturing,” said Mike Fino, MiraCosta College interim dean of math and sciences, who noted the total tuition cost for the four-year bachelor of science degree will be about $10,000. “The net effect is that students are able to grow careers that are in-demand and well-paying and they can do so without having incurred a debilitating amount of debt.”

The baccalaureate program is the latest in the MiraCosta College Biotechnology Department’s effort to attract a wide spectrum of students looking to work in the growing biotech industry. About a quarter of all students in the department already have a bachelor’s degree and a job but are learning new skills to boost their careers.

“There is a great diversity in our classrooms, from the people who are just starting out, to the people with a bachelor’s degree to the people already in the industry who want to expand their tool kit,” Fino said.

One of those students is Tayah Bolt, 18, who is studying chemistry and biotechnology and plans to transfer to UC San Diego.

“I enrolled at MiraCosta to be a part of their two-year transfer program,” said Bolt, whose MiraCosta course work led to her acceptance in the Genomics Scholars Program at the J. Craig Venter Institute, a paid, undergraduate research opportunity with professional development. “This is so much more affordable than going straight into a four-year college system. Along with this, the class sizes are amazing compared to a lecture hall at a university with over 100 students in it.”

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