It’s been a good year for than just the Golden State Warriors, Santa Rosa Junior College president Frank Chong said Thursday during the 24th annual President’s Address to the Community. The college held its 97th annual commencement this past weekend, awarding more than 2,200 degrees to 1,600 students.
“That’s the largest in the history of Santa Rosa Junior College, a 10 percent increase from the previous year,” he said to the hundreds of donors, faculty, staff, students and community members in the crowd.
“The SRJC is having nearly as good a season as Steph Curry,” added Chong, who at the event honored former college president Robert Agrella with the President’s Medallion for his 22 years of service.
When it comes to the number of transfer students accepted at University of California campuses, Chong, who is the fifth president in the college’s history, boasted that SRJC ranks No. 1 among large community colleges. Chong said 75 percent of their students who apply to UC campuses are accepted, compared to a statewide average of 45 percent.
SRJC also ranks No. 1 in transfers to Sonoma State University, he added. About 600 students transfer to the Rohnert Park university each year, said Chong, who at the event highlighted the accomplishments of several students, including Claudia Ochoa of Santa Rosa.
Ochoa was just a teen when she arrived in the United States, unable to speak any English. She was forced to put her education on hold after finishing high school to juggle three jobs.
“I didn’t think school was for me. Financially, it was not an option,” she said before the event.
Thanks to a former high school teacher, Pat Fitzpatrick, who connected her to resources at the junior college, Ochoa said she was able to return to school at the age of 26. After taking English-language classes and completing prerequisite courses, she was accepted into the nursing program at the college. She graduated on Saturday.
Ochoa still needs to take the state registered nurse licensing exam. She said she already has a job lined up with Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
“It changed my world,” Ochoa, 33, said about the junior college. “I don’t know what Santa Rosa would be without the SRJC.”
Hal Sanford, a communications studies professor at SRJC, said it’s vital to provide those educational opportunities to residents, particularly to those who can’t afford it.
“Dr. Chong is about advancing educational opportunities to all,” said Sanford, who was recognized Thursday by Chong for his leadership as the director of the speech and debate team, which won this spring the state championship in parliamentary debate.
Chong said the school doesn’t just benefit students, but also the community at large. With more than 3,000 faculty and staff and an annual payroll of $161 billion, he said it’s the second largest employer in Sonoma County. He said a recent economic impact study that SRJC commissioned found that the community received $5.80 for every tax dollar it invested in the college.
“That makes SRJC a very unusual public institution, one that generates more revenue than it takes in,” he said.
The college also was named a great college to work for the fourth consecutive year by the Chronicle of Higher Education, he said.