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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 4:04 am | Fair 49º


Economic Alliance Researching Feasibility of Four-Year Private University in Santa Maria

A Santa Maria group is gathering research that could show student interest in offering a four-year private education within city limits.

Members of the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County, better known as EconNSBC, say they are in the process of gathering research that they hope will attract a four-year university to serve Central Coast students who are without a true local option.

The alliance of economic development stakeholders, who teamed up about a year ago, has been in preliminary talks with California Lutheran University regarding the project.

Alliance co-founder Vicki Conner said Cal Lutheran was a natural choice for initial discussions because the Thousand Oaks-based university already has an education master’s degree program in Orcutt.

“The idea is to use that as a foundation for the education workforce initiative,” Conner said. “We’ve had some conversations. We’ll see what happens.”

Karin Grennan, a Cal Lutheran spokeswoman, said the university is waiting to see the alliance’s research results and is not pushing for the project in any way yet.

“We’re just trying to gauge interest in us offering other programs there,” Grennan said.

The alliance’s “1,000 Day Roadmap” provides an outline for developing an economic stability in the county, which includes targeting industries, fostering innovation, creating a K-14 education and workforce collaborative, and more.

One of seven subgroups within the alliance is responsible for researching interest in a university.

Ken Parker, a retired school administrator who co-chairs that group, said research is focusing south of San Luis Obispo County to the south end of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Students in those areas — which have about 4,600 high-school graduates combined each year — are now attending Allan Hancock College, Santa Barbara City College and Cuesta College in large numbers, Parker said.

“We have cause to believe that (number) is going to go up,” Parker said.

He said UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo attract students from all over the globe, which means they aren’t true regional schools.

The alliance is in the process of meeting with community college officials so they can survey students to see whether they would like a local option that allows them to still live at home.

Parker said he would like to see the survey completed by January or February, “so we could kind of move the ball along a bit.”

The alliance will host a “Futures Forum” on Nov. 15 in Santa Maria to discuss progress.

“We’re just beyond the dream stage,” Parker said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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