Last year, the Sweetwater Union High School District board voted to support a vaguely worded concept about an institution called “Sweetwater University.” The latest gambit for Sweetwater U is online college courses offered to high school students.
In November 2011, the board passed this resolution: “Sweetwater University would partner with local businesses and organizations to provide opportunities for students who complete its programs to be guaranteed a job upon graduation. This Resolution will authorize staff to move forward with the establishment of Sweetwater University.”
Trustee Pearl Quiñones was absent for the vote, trustee Lopez voted against the resolution, and trustee Arlie Ricasa supported it but called for more details.
Sweetwater superintendent Ed Brand told the U-T in November 2011 that “The idea is to live, to go to school, to work, and to have [Sweetwater University] in a self-contained environment called South County….”
The initial discussion included a survey about a bond proposition and a “brick and mortar” university. But Brand said at the time, “All options are on the table.”
The latest version of Sweetwater U is scheduled to begin next semester according to Manny Rubio, spokesperson for the district.
In a November 28 interview, Rubio confirmed that 11th- and 12th-grade students in Sweetwater will be able to take online courses through a university contracted with by the district. Rubio said two of universities the district has considered are DeVry University and Grand Canyon University. Sources say that Grand Canyon University has already been selected.
Rubio said the idea is that motivated students will be able to “get their feet wet” and find out how challenging a university course can be. Reflecting on his own experience as a Sweetwater student, Rubio said, “I was so ready to move on. I would have welcomed an opportunity like this.”
Asked why Sweetwater didn’t partner with Southwestern College or San Diego State University, Rubio said that idea has not been ruled out. Ultimately, there may be several online options available.
Rubio said students would be responsible for tuition costs, which could be several hundred dollars per class. He said that the district is exploring options for student assistance through the Sweetwater Education Foundation and for discounted classes. Rubio said he believes students will also be eligible for federal loans.
Grand Canyon University is a for-profit Christian University. According to a 2004 Baptist Press article, the university was sold “by the self-governing trustee board to California-based Significant Education…a for-profit subsidiary of a company known as Significant Ventures.”
Underneath the many umbrella groups is Michael Clifford of Significant Federation, which has a Del Mar address. Clifford, who in a KPBS Frontline interview defined himself as an “educational entrepreneur,” also takes credit for starting Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. San Diego State University and Southwestern College are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
A senate committee report on health, education, labor, and pensions raised these concerns about Grand Canyon University: “Grand Canyon Bachelor’s students withdraw at a higher rate than many others the committee examined. However, the company’s low default rate does not reflect the high proportion of students leaving Grand Canyon with student debt but no college degree…. Moreover, the high percentage of its revenue Grand Canyon spends on marketing relative to instruction and the low number of career services employees also present areas of particular concern.”