As it nears its 100th year, Santa Rosa Junior College is taking stock of itself.
At the Petaluma campus Friday morning, school officials held the first of four "community conversations" as administrators gather input for their five-year strategic plan for the 26,600-student district.
About 60 participants, including school employees, students, alumni, business leaders and members of the community, were asked to consider what SRJC should look like in 2018, the centennial of the Santa Rosa campus, and how the district can strengthen its connection with the community.
School President Frank Chong said the college, the 10th oldest of California's 112 community colleges, is "falling behind" with aging facilities and outdated technology. The budget has been cut by 12 percent and course offerings by 20 percent over the past four years, squeezing out some students and lengthening the time it takes to earn a degree.
In 2002, voters approved a $251 million bond measure that expanded the Petaluma campus and added to and upgraded existing facilities on the Mendocino Avenue campus.
"My pitch to the community is that you have to invest in the JC because you get a great return," Chong said.
One recurrent theme that emerged Friday was that the district should work with employers and schools to help create a skilled, in-demand workforce.
Vanessa Luna Shannon, director of a JC program to help high school dropouts go to college, said she would like to see partnerships with local technology companies or corporate sponsors of specialized study programs.
Others envisioned collaborations with individual employers, K-12 schools, parents, senior citizens and nonprofit groups. Some wanted to see the Petaluma campus remain open on weekends for community events.
Integrating the JC with schools and local employers will help create a fluid transition for students heading into the workforce, said student advisor Hilleary Izard, who led a brainstorming group.
"SRJC is part of the experience of our youth growing up," she said.
Having the JC more active in the community will help create "college-going culture," Shannon said.
At the Petaluma campus, the school could offer courses or internships in niche agriculture or food service, hospitality and health care — jobs that could support local economic goals, participants said.
The district faces changing demographics of its student base as the fast-growing Latino community fills the "education pipeline," said KC Greaney, the JC's director of institutional research.
In 2012, 47 percent of all Sonoma County students in kindergarten through 12th grade were white, while 42 percent were Latino. In kindergarten, 62 percent were Latino and 26 percent were white.
The college needs to engage the Latino community, offer relevant courses and employ faculty and staff that reflect those changes, participants said.
Others said the college needs to focus not only on academics, but on the community's intellectual-cultural growth, such as the arts, music and activities for all ages.
An online community survey will be available next week for those who can't attend one of the workshops.
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)