U.S. Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, expressed his desire to move the University Center concept forward, citing high construction costs in the state that limit the ability of higher education institutions to expand. “With the trend in California, this is really the only practical approach,” McKeon said. Students such as Caryn Serian, who will graduate this month with a bachelor’s degree in child development from the University of La Verne taking all her classes in Santa Clarita, said the University Center motivates them to continue their education. “My professors tell me not to forget my doctorate degree, and I tell them I won’t,” Serian said. Serian, who works part time as a preschool teacher, said she couldn’t have completed her degree without the local program. SANTA CLARITA – Impressive and inspiring is how the nation’s Secretary of Education described College of the Canyon’s University Center on Friday morning as administrators and students touted the program’s benefits. The five-year-old center, one of the few in the nation and the first in California, offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs at the two-year community college campus providing increased access for those who can’t travel to four-year colleges. “I am impressed with the collaboration this has brought to bear on a state, federal and local level,” Margaret Spellings said. “This is definitely a national model.” The college is operating its university center out of temporary facilities of less than 10,000 square feet, with a permanent facility under construction. Since 2002, about 1,300 students have enrolled in four-year programs there and 724 degrees and certifications have been awarded. “I am a big advocate for this program,” she said. The new $36 million permanent university center will be named after college President Dianne Van Hook when it opens in fall 2008. It will expand from 26 degree programs to 70, including courses for a doctoral degree in education. “The University Center stands for what education stands for – the breaking of barriers, opportunity, believing you can do it and then doing it,” Van Hook said Friday. Creating this progressive collaborative model wasn’t easy, she said, noting that state and federal funding was slim. Texas and Virginia had similar university centers, but College of the Canyons’ was the first in California. Van Hook remembered how she had to ask state legislators to “get progressive.” As of 2004, the state changed its rules to add a category for shared-use projects, and awarded College of the Canyons $21 million from voter approved bond money for education. Secretary Spellings was also impressed with the college’s collaborative efforts with the nearby Hart Union High School District. About 180 juniors and seniors from the Hart district attend Academy of the Canyons on the college campus, taking up to six college units a semester while finishing their high school requirements. In September the college’s Canyon Country satellite campus, now under construction, will house one of California’s eight Early College High Schools, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Students in the Early College program will take college courses concurrently with high school beginning in the ninth grade with the goal of graduating from high school with at least a year’s worth of college credits. [email protected] (661) 257-5254160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!