Located on Oasis Street, a short walk from the Larson Justice Center courthouse, the COD Indio campus focuses on administration of justice, cybersecurity, business, science, and general education. Demand outgrew the space almost immediately after the campus opened in 2014. Bond Measure CC funded construction as well as renovations to the existing building, resulting in a holistic urban setting easily accessed by the surrounding neighborhood. COD worked closely with the city of Indio to secure sites and intends to break ground in spring 2022.
Atop the new three-story, 67,000-square-foot instructional building will be a flexible “maker space” to host public meetings, career and technical education, and entrepreneurship programs. A cafe and library will benefit the community and students. Nearby, a new Child Development Center will offer daycare for as many as 80 toddlers and preschoolers while functioning as a teaching lab for COD students pursuing careers in early childhood education.
“It’s pretty much a childcare desert in the East Valley,” says program director Dianne Russom, noting that parents have few options for subsidized care. The U-shaped center incorporates an outdoor classroom, a popular feature piloted at the McCarthy Family Child Development and Training Center on COD’s Palm Desert campus. “It’s not recess,” Russom says. “It is set up very intentionally as a learning environment for children, with activities to enhance math, science, and social skills.”
The COD Advanced Transportation Technologies program, aka Roadrunner Motors, is moving from Palm Desert to the south end of Perez Road. Doug Benoit, dean of applied sciences and business, thinks the new location will handle 80 students at a time for morning, afternoon, and evening classes. He says it represents “an expansion and enhancement” of the school’s emphasis on hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles — with the possibility of incorporating virtual reality as an instructional tool.
Stone James, economic development director for Cathedral City, found the ideal spot in the heart of the thriving automotive business cluster, giving students an inside look at the industry and fostering connections that can pay off down the line.
“Internships are the key to making it work,” Benoit says. “We want to produce the best-trained students. The dealerships want to hire the best-trained entry-level employees they can get. That is where we want to meet, right in the middle.”
James and Benoit foresee regular contact between COD and automotive partners, enabling faculty to collect real-time data on trends and gaps, and adjusting curriculum as necessary.
“I was impressed by the forward thinking of the program,” James says. “This is going to help students work on different alternative fuels — not just electric cars or dual-propulsion cars, but also hydrogen — and transportation logistics.”
Framing the Coachella Valley, major freeways connect the Inland Empire’s growing warehouse distribution system to the rest of the country and Mexico. Building on this could strengthen and diversify the region’s economic landscape.
“We have a fragile economy because we’re unilaterally focused on the consumption of a luxury good: Travel is a luxury item,” James says. “So we have a tremendous number of low-paying jobs and we are at significant risk [during] downturns.”
“What’s exciting is that this will give an opportunity to people who are motivated to make a positive change in their life. They can go to this program and get into a career field where they could make 50, 60, 70, 80 thousand dollars a year if they apply themselves. … As a valley, we become better with more education. We desperately need it; we need to upskill our overall workforce.”
On the Horizon
Local leaders think COD’s expansion will catch the eye of another target: the California State University Board of Trustees. A robust community college, with tens of thousands of students ready to transfer to a university in their back yard, might convince the trustees to transform CSU San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus into a new, comprehensive, independent Cal State Palm Desert.
Joe Wallace, CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, serves as chairman and CEO of Priority One Coachella Valley, the lobbying entity formed to bring a full four-year university to Palm Desert. “The permanent population of this valley is 463,000 people. There’s no other place in the United States of this level of population that doesn’t have a four-year state university. Not one, anywhere.” The Priority One website pegs the annual economic impact of a Palm Desert campus at $286 million once build-out is complete.
Wallace is a champion for a better-educated workforce, framing it in practical terms: “What it means is more capacity to provide that first two years out of high school where students can elevate their skills to the point that they have a shot at getting better jobs.” He knows firsthand. He started out at Hazard Community and Technical College in rural Kentucky and went on to get a master’s degree in engineering from Stanford University. Education, Wallace says, took him from coal mining country to successful tech entrepreneur: “It made my life.”