Delta College is mulling over an offer by a developer to buy 160 acres the district owns just northwest of the Highway 99 and Lathrop Road interchange.
Drama - as expected - is starting to grow. The developer will only want to turn it into houses. (Actually probably retail makes more sense down the road.) It will wipe out Delta College’s working farm. (No offense, but Delta has never seemed super serious about the actual production side of farming. Besides, with Modesto Junior College nearby why replicate a sterling program?) The land may be needed for a Manteca campus. (It isn’t going to happen.)
Delta needs to drop the morality debates and just sell the land. The community college district lost any moral high ground they had after the last bond election. After telling voters in the Manteca-Lathrop-Ripon-Escalon area that a “yes” vote would lead to a satellite campus on the 160 acres, the Delta College trustees abandoned the Trojan horse campaign promise and built the campus in Mountain House instead.
In defense of that decision, it made sense. Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, and Escalon are midway between two strong community colleges - Modesto Junior College and Delta College. The Tracy-Mountain House area isn’t as close plus it is a high-growth area.
As for saving the college farm, let’s get real. There are 112 community colleges in California. The fight for funding isn’t going to get easier. So why duplicate specialized programs? Delta College has a fine ag mechanics program. But overall, MJC’s ag program is much more intense. It also has much stronger community backing and is higher profile. Agriculture is the No. 1 industry and employer in California. No doubt about it. But here we have two community colleges supported by taxpayers 36.5 miles apart. It makes more sense that community efforts - and tax dollars - strengthen one to the point it becomes even more of an intense learning experience. The other can take what resources it commits to the bulk of its ag department and redistribute it to make its strengths even stronger such as careers in health.
Yes, everyone wants to have their own program just like every high school wants to have its own football field. But replicating expensive facilities or programs that are essential or simply desired but don’t have high student counts when there are two campuses close together is squandering resources.
Given how we struggle in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, we need an effective and regional approach to post-secondary education. There is no room for empire building. Tax dollars need to be maximized as does the ability to provide skills to the most people.
And even if Delta College wants to retain and expand its school farm operations, they have picked the wrong place to do it. The location would be akin to Delta College 30 years ago locating a school farm a mile north of Lincoln Village in Stockton. Today it would be hemmed in by growth and face all sorts of serious issues.
If Delta College really wants or needs a school farm, they should sell the current site and buy another. Better yet, maybe they could partner with some of the high school districts they serve and create a seamless ninth through 14th grade ag program.
As for a campus per se in Manteca, online education is changing the world.
Delta’s trustees need to cut the drama. Sell the land. And use the proceeds for other facility needs.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.