In the fall of 1969, College of the Canyons opened for its first term of classes. Thirty-one faculty taught 735 students in the late afternoons and evenings Hart High School, which the college used that first year before moving into portable buildings at the current Valencia campus. Our first graduating class numbered 16.
Fifty years later, nearly everything has changed. We have two campuses now, with nearly 1 million square feet of building space between them. More than 1,600 full- and part-time employees serve the 35,000-plus students who enroll each year in the 192 degree and certificates programs available. And, the class of 2019 was the largest ever, with 2,467 graduates.
In total, approximately 250,000 people have taken a class at the college since it opened, and we have awarded some 34,000 degrees and certificates.
While the growth is impressive, it more importantly reflects the college’s commitment to meeting the needs of the dynamic community it serves. Numbers, however, do not capture the full impact of the college, and what it means to this community.
The real measure of our impact is our ability to deliver on the promise of opportunity; which can be seen in the hundreds of thousands of lives changed because students could access higher education at College of the Canyons.
As we celebrate our anniversary, we have heard from so many former Cougars who have taken the time to share their stories, and how this college helped lay the foundation for their future success. They credit College of the Canyons with giving them the tools that enabled them to achieve, and in most cases exceed, their intended goals.
“I consider COC a ‘launching pad’ in helping me to take my professional self to the next level and putting me on the path towards discovering who I really am and who I am meant to be,” said Thomas Iland, a 2005 graduate.
Now a certified public accountant, Iland recalls failing his first managerial accounting test in Professor Bob Maxwell’s business class. The experience motivated him to study for the optional final exam, which enabled him to replace the poor score and ace the class.
“Once I enrolled at COC and I was finally challenged at the educational level I was supposed to be challenged at, I flourished immediately,” said Samantha Severyn, who came to COC at age 15 after finding high school to be a poor fit. “This experience I believe forever changed the outcome of my life.”
She transferred to Montana State University in Bozeman, where she is apprenticing in a chiropractic practice to gain the knowledge and skills needed to open her own health clinic.
Rodney Grimes, class of 1972, said the most enduring lesson of college went beyond any particular class or subject: “The recognition that hard work and dedication to achieve a goal will pay off.”
Like many Cougars, Grimes credits the people of COC for making the biggest difference. “I will always be indebted to my sociology instructor, Dr. Dale Smith. With great understanding and monumental patience, (he) instilled in me the passion for hard work and academic success.”
The former chair of the Black Student Union, Grimes retired in Phoenix after a successful 36-year career in the pharmaceutical industry.
Jodie Hoffman, principal of Golden Oak Adult School, said her best memory of being a student at COC is “the feeling of empowerment of accomplishing something I didn’t believe possible with the support of teachers, tutors, and friends who encouraged me.”
College of the Canyons Foundation board member Kevin Holmes is among the many students who find their way to COC later in life.
“I went to COC with no direction for my future,” he said. But sitting in his first accounting class, he was struck by the thought, “this is what I want to do for a living.” He graduated within two years, finished a bachelor’s degree at CSUN, and landed a position at Arthur Andersen, then the largest accounting firm in the world.
The best metrics of our success are those that show our impact on students – possibilities imagined, goals achieved, and ultimately, lives changed. That’s the promise of opportunity. It was available at College of the Canyons on our first day of class, and it will continue to inspire our innovative growth in the decades to come.
Dianne Van Hook serves as chancellor of College of the Canyons.