Gary Horton | COC: The Most Pragmatic College on Planet Earth

Gary Horton

A disclosure: I am co-chair of the College of the Canyons Foundation board. I’ve been a member of the COC Foundation for about two years. I was a member of the fundraising Chancellor’s Circle for a couple of years before that. 

COC is the Santa Clarita Valley’s largest employer. It is the most influential entity in the SCV and areas nearby. The school hosts approximately 26,000 students annually, at multiple facilities that rival most four-year colleges. Many of our local politicians and business and professional leaders got their start at COC. 

COC takes all comers and pumps out thousands of successful individuals transferring to four-year colleges. It trains tens of thousands to be nurses, firefighters, culinary arts professionals, automotive techs, and workers newly empowered with a litany of professional certificate programs. 

The impact of COC on the SCV workforce cannot be overstated. It’s long been a positive and affordable influence for SCV families. Indeed, COC’s tuition programs make college and certificate programs affordable for everyone! 

Recently, I sat in a combined meeting between the foundation board (fundraising) and the governing board, made of elected officials. During the meeting, members of the public are allotted time to speak directly to the governing board, and one did. 

This community activist expressed his concern over the process and use of funds in conjunction with the new Advanced Technology Center, a facility designed to train people for employment in high-skilled manufacturing. And one of the governing board members later expressed concern over insufficient “inclusion” in both the membership of the foundation board as well as insufficient diversity in who we raise funds from. And then, there’s been some recent community dissatisfaction with some in the community over the Philosophy Department’s choice to air a controversial movie to students. 

And I remember a year ago, when Angela Davis spoke to a sold-out audience at COC, some community members’ hair caught on fire. COC had become a hotbed of progressive fanaticism! A virtual pizza shop basement of a college spewing liberal trash into our students’ vulnerable brains!  

Criticism is healthy. In a public institution, most everything is on the table and visible and available for anyone’s review. As a large public college, COC teaches hundreds of subjects and trades and some in the community will always agree or disagree with this or that lesson, topic, or approach. Criticism is received, heard, often acted on, and is a necessary aspect of governing a large public institution. If COC didn’t create some controversy, it would likely be a mundane and less impactful place.  

This criticism, regardless of what side it’s coming from, seems overwrought to me. There’s surely truth in the saying, “You can’t please all the people all the time.” 

The other day I heard the foundation board is too old and white. The governing board was accused by a few of wasting public money training residents for good jobs in manufacturing. 

And we’re told we’re teaching kids terrorism with this “blow things up” movie mini-controversy. 

Rather, due to dynamic leadership up and down the staff, College of the Canyons is a local educational powerhouse and success promoter. If you haven’t done so lately, go over to any of the school’s operating locations and look at the facilities. Talk to the students. Meet some professors. You’ll be blown away by the academic and professional level of the programs, professors, trainers and students. 

Ultimately, COC’s mission is to create opportunity for all comers. Our mission is to further education for all who seek it. To prepare and promote access to four-year universities. To empower job seekers with the modern skills required for success in our increasingly technological workplace. As a result, COC creates an educated community, bringing stability and success to tens of thousands of families living in the SCV and beyond. 

College of the Canyons is about creating opportunity for success for everyone, regardless of economic or social status. It’s life-changing opportunity for the taking. Stability and success for our citizens. What a great purpose and mission! 

Similarly, the foundation board is also about creating opportunity. We’ve raised funds for everything from the University Center to the Culinary Institute to the Performing Arts Center. Today we fund programs to mitigate student crisis and emergencies. Funds for scholarships. Funds for ongoing educational programs. And we’re focusing on raising $3 million to purchase expensive high-tech manufacturing machines and materials for the new Advanced Technology Center – a facility that connects the needs of workers to the opportunities quickly expanding in America’s manufacturing sector. 

As to “inclusion and equity,” this is simple: COC takes anyone wanting to create life-enhancing opportunity for themselves or others — as students, as elected board members, and as fundraisers in our various committees, groups and boards … 

I might add, as fundraisers, we’ll take anyone’s money as long as it is legally obtained!  

While we’re going about creating this opportunity, there will always be chatter and dissonance. We’d hope for that in a school so energetically designed to expand minds and expand potential. We’re all part of this amazing mix, as we work together in community improving our people’s lives. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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