A History of Vision and Innovation

In the span of 40 years, College of the Canyons has been transformed from a small community college serving several hundred students into one of the nation’s fastest-growing, large community colleges (those with 10,000-plus students).
Change and significant progress have occurred throughout the Santa Clarita Valley over the years, and College of the Canyons has been propelled forward by a combination of the community’s growth and an unwavering vision to transform this place into the best community college in the country.
Projections indicate enrollment will continue to rise. Nearly 25,000 students enrolled for classes this past year, surpassing enrollment projections well ahead of schedule. This sort of growth has demanded flexibility and innovation. It also has created demands for new academic, occupational and athletic programs, training partnerships with business and industry -- and the facilities to house them.
If one looks around the campus today, he or she will see a significant amount of construction activity. These projects, as well as the ongoing construction of the new Canyon Country campus, signify the highest level of construction and preparation for the future since the original campus was built in the early 1970s. In fact, most of the college’s square footage has been added during the tenure of Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook, who has led the college since 1988. She has radically changed this campus not only to keep up with the community’s demands, but to anticipate the educational and training programs that will be in demand in the future.
When Dr. Van Hook arrived in 1988, she quickly got down to business and spearheaded a major update of the college’s master plan. The result was a seemingly non-stop series of construction projects that continues today -- and that has dramatically changed the college’s face and character. The college was housed in eight major buildings in 1988, including Cougar Stadium; by 2008, another 10 major structures had been built, among them the 926-seat Performing Arts Center, the Library, Mentry Hall, the Family Studies & Early Childhood Education Center, Aliso Hall, Aliso Lab, Pico Canyon Hall, Hasley Hall and an entirely new campus in Canyon Country.
During this period, academic and occupational offerings were vastly expanded. The college offered associate in arts and science degrees in 61 academic programs, as well as credentials in 69 certificate programs. Academic programs ranged from Animation to Television, Film and Video Production, from Audio/Radio Production to Video Game Animation, from Biotechnology to Theatre Arts, from Child Development to Paralegal Studies, and from Dance to Industrial Manufacturing.
College of the Canyons’ institutional philosophy is to educate both the body and the mind. Sixteen intercollegiate athletic programs -- divided equally between men’s and women’s sports -- provide outstanding opportunities. Notable achievements include the football team’s state and national championships in 2004, the men’s golf team’s four state championships since 2000, and women’s golf’s state championships in 2001 and 2007.
Helping meet students’ needs has been a historically supportive and generous community, which has always approved requests for bond funding for capital construction projects. The most recent bond measure, Measure M, was approved by voters in 2006, providing $160 million in general-obligation bond funding to pay for the next big wave of expansion and modernization projects. The measure -- the fourth in the college’s history -- allows the Santa Clarita Community College District to add more classrooms and labs, build permanent facilities and equip classrooms at the new Canyon Country campus, upgrade technology to expand instruction in public-safety and other high-demand professions, and improve earthquake, security and fire safety. The locally generated funds also will help the district secure as much as $80 million in additional state matching funds.

College Formation

Local voters approved creation of the college in 1967. Taking the helm of the fledgling institution was the first superintendent-president, Dr. Robert Rockwell. College of the Canyons officially opened in temporary quarters at William S. Hart High School in Newhall in 1969, with all classes scheduled late in the day, after high school students had left. The college purchased 153 acres of land along the east side of Interstate 5, south of Valencia Boulevard and north of McBean Parkway, in 1970. It was here that the college relocated, moving into a collection of modular buildings as permanent facilities were being built.

Moving Forward

Construction of a second Physical Education building has been completed, and the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center is expected to open this fall. The innovative University Center allows students to earn bachelor, master or doctoral degrees from a collection of public and private universities that offer their programs here. The idea is to improve access to education by eliminating the need for residents to commute long distances to obtain advanced degrees. And there will likely be more construction on the way. Planned projects include a 52,000-square-foot expansion of the Library, a 20,000-square-foot expansion of Mentry Hall, and construction of the 15,000-square-foot Applied Arts Building, the first new, permanent structure at the Canyon Country campus, which itself opened in 2007 with nearly 3,400 students in modular facilities. This new campus will accommodate up to 10,000 students when the permanent buildings are completed.

Innovative Partnerships 

The college participates in several innovative partnerships that have redefined the traditional role of community colleges. Academy of the Canyons, operated by the William S. Hart Union High School District, opened at College of the Canyons in 2002 and allows promising high school students to attend high school and college concurrently. The Early College High School, operated by the Hart district at the Canyon Country campus since 2007, will merge with Academy of the Canyons this year. Also operating at the college are the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies and Employee Training Institute, both of which have helped local businesses become more efficient and train employees in the latest emerging fields, along with funding from a Department of Commerce grant of $1.3 million. In partnership with Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, the college operates the Clinical Education Center at the hospital. And, the College of the Canyons Biotechnology Center provides a 2,000-square-foot clean room in partnership with the Mann Biomedical Park. The college’s tradition of innovation is illustrated by its 2009 recognition by the Hewlett Leaders in Student Success as one of just three California community colleges with innovative and proven teaching strategies in "basic skills" foundational math and English programs. The award came with a $15,000 instruction grant.

Gateway to Opportunity

College of the Canyons has served as a gateway to higher education, professional training and, by extension, opportunity for the community. Nearly 200,000 people have attended the college since it opened 40 years ago. Thousands have graduated. And, many students have returned to pursue their professional careers. Some 45 percent of the college’s staff members were once students here. The college’s commitment to excellence is a tradition reflected by its innovative, results-oriented leadership. As the next chapters of the college’s history are written, the outstanding foundation that has been laid will be further built upon and the institution will continue to uphold the ideals of education and contribute to the development of our vibrant, thriving community for generations to come.
Updated June 4, 2009