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CSUN at 40

As CSUN Celebrates Its Past, Ventura Campus Eyes Future

Satellite center is scheduled to move to shuttered Camarillo State Hospital complex, the first step in plan to turn site into county's first four-year public university.


VENTURA — With all the talk of a new era for Cal State Northridge as it pushes toward its 40th birthday, officials at the university's off-campus center in Ventura are plotting some changes of their own: They're trying to put the place out of business.

The satellite center, an extension of the Northridge campus since 1974, is scheduled to move next summer to the shuttered Camarillo State Hospital complex, the first step in a plan to turn the site into Ventura County's first four-year public university.

It's fitting that such a historic move should occur as CSUN launches into its yearlong 40th anniversary observance.

After all, just as the Ventura campus is expected one day to evolve into a full-fledged university known as Cal State Channel Islands, CSUN itself was born as an offshoot of a school that eventually became Cal State Los Angeles.

And it was under the care and guidance of Northridge's main campus that the Ventura center grew to become the largest satellite facility in the Cal State University system.

"I think both campuses have reasons to celebrate the past and the future," said Joyce Kennedy, who retired last spring after 23 years at the Ventura campus, the past 15 as its director. "The need for education is just so profound in this county, and I've always been very grateful for the nurturing attention [Northridge officials] gave to the Ventura campus."

Indeed, while Ventura County residents have waited more than three decades for a four-year college to call their own, the off-campus center has in the meantime helped fill the void.

Launched with 75 students nearly a quarter of a century ago, the center has helped lay the foundation for a local Cal State campus and keep that dream alive with a steady diet of academic programs and student services.

Now, with the center set to be swallowed whole by what is to become the 23rd campus in the CSU system, Northridge officials are scrambling to expand programs and boost enrollment in anticipation of shifting the operation to Camarillo in time to open for business next fall.

"We're getting close," said campus director Steven Lefevre, hired late last year from the Texas state university system to head the center and guide its transition to Camarillo. "This is the most exciting time anybody could be associated with a university."

The off-campus center has had to move before.

It began as the Ventura Learning Center in 1974, a joint educational project between the Cal State and University of California systems. At one time, seven off-campus centers were operating at an office building off Maple Street in Ventura.

In 1988, the Northridge center split off and moved to its current location, a 30,000-square-foot office building overlooking the Ventura Freeway near Seaward Avenue.

It has two computer labs and a 15,000-volume library. It has 16 classrooms and four faculty offices and a staff of 11, which is expected to grow to 15 this fall. It also has more than 1,600 full- and part-time students, most of whom have full-time jobs and attend evening classes.

Now the task becomes packing it all up and moving it down the road to the old hospital site.

With $16.5 million set aside in the state budget to renovate the hospital complex and operate the off-campus center on the new site, Northridge officials are busy determining how to make the best use of the new campus.

"One of our biggest tasks is getting the word out about what our plan is," Lefevre said. "This whole thing has been so long in coming, I think some folks think it's already something that has come and gone."

Toward that end, officials at the Ventura campus announced earlier this month they would be offering more daytime and Saturday courses this fall to attract a broader student base. They have even begun offering evening courses at Ventura High School to cater to more working adults.

By fall 1999, CSUN officials say they would like to offer at least four new degrees in fields such as computer science.

Although they have their hands full running the center and planning the move, officials at the Ventura campus say they plan to take time out to join CSUN's 40th anniversary celebration, perhaps holding festivities in the spring to commemorate the milestone.

And although the campuses are embarking on new journeys, there is no concern the two will grow apart any time soon.

"I think Northridge will continue to play a vital role in Ventura County," Kennedy said. "I see a continued presence for Northridge and a brand new emerging one for Channel Islands. There's plenty here for everyone."

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