Southwestern College has started construction of a $101 million University Center in Chula Vista that promises to give South County students a place to earn a bachelor’s degree – without the commute.
“The vision for the University Center is to increase access for students in the South County for a four-year degree program,” said Mark Sanchez, superintendent and president of the Southwestern Community College District.
Despite Chula Vista’s size and prominence, the city lacks a major university hub, and the goal is for Southwestern College’s University Center is to provide that hub.
Not only will the future University Center bring a four-year university presence to the region, but students will also have more flexibility while taking classes at Southwestern, according to school officials.
Designed by Gensler, the 80,000-square-foot new University Center will include a new planetarium to replace one from the 1960’s that was razed to make way for the new construction.
The center also will include 40 classrooms for the schools of business and technology, language and literature and art, communication and social sciences.
Sanchez said that the new center is among several college construction projects funded by Proposition R, a $389 million bond measure approved by voters in 2008, and Proposition Z, a $400 million bond measure approved by voters in 2016.
The college recently completed a $25.7 million new public safety training center on its Otay Mesa campus, and a $25.6 million information technology data center building.
The college also is building a new student union building that will house student support services.
“All of these buildings will be coming on in 2024 and 2025,” Sanchez said.
With the University Center due to open in 2024, Sanchez said that Southwestern College students will be able to take four-year in-person degree programs at the new center offered by university partners including National University, Point Loma Nazarene and San Diego State University.
Sanchez said that he’s also in talks to have University of California San Diego offer in-person classes in the center for four-year degrees.
UC San Diego has a new downtown San Diego campus where South County students can take classes and the Blue Line trolley was extended to the main UC San Diego campus in Torrey Pines – both of which were meant to make UC San Diego programs available to South County students.
“It’s fantastic that they did that,” Sanchez said of the trolley extension.
Even with new trolley line and the opening of a downtown UC San Diego campus, Sanchez said that some South County students find the commute too daunting.
Construction of the new University Center “is really trying to eliminate that barrier of distance,” Sanchez said.
“If you live in Otay Mesa or San Ysidro, that’s quite a commute to UC San Diego,” Sanchez said. “If we can eliminate those barriers and have those programs right here in the community, I think it’s going to be amazing access for South County, I think it’s going to be game changer.”
Southwestern College in 2022 had an enrollment of 45,149 students, up from 41,647 in 2021, and Sanchez said that enrollment continues to grow. He said that the new construction is should be able to handle the growing population for several years.
Sanchez said 25% to 30% of South County graduating seniors don’t go to any college or university yet most of the new high tech and biotech jobs require college degrees.
He said there’s “a disconnect between the jobs of the future “and the skills people need to get them.
Countywide, Sanchez said there are 1,800 engineering positions that are unfilled.
“My viewpoint is why not educate our own community to be poised to fill those positions in the future,” Sanchez said.
Founded: 1961 Headquarters: Chula Vista President/Superintendent: Mark Sanchez Business: Community college Enrollment: 45,149 Website: www.swccd.edu Contact: 619-421-6700 Notable: The college began offering classes to 1,657 students in 1961, with temporary quarters at Chula Vista High School. Groundbreaking for the present 156-acre Chula Vista campus was held in 1963. By September 1964, initial construction was completed and classes were being held at the new campus on the corner of Otay Lakes Road and H Street in Chula Vista.