Students who haven’t returned to Southwestern College since the pandemic may not recognize parts of the school.
The largest college in San Diego’s South County has undergone monumental changes on its Chula Vista campus and other locations in the last few years, and those changes are far from over.
“This campus has just transformed in an amazing way,” said onetime student and current college president Mark Sanchez.
Southwestern opened a state-of-the-art performing arts center during the pandemic, and also tore down some older buildings to construct new, modern facilities.
“It makes me feel very excited and very happy because that shows they’re investing in the students’ future,” said student Karen Sanchez (no relation to the school's president), who is one of the roughly 25% of the student population that returned to in-person classes this semester.
“It is very heartwarming,” Karen said with a smile.
The school's president said he was also excited to see the students return. He started his first day as Southwestern College’s newest leader in February, when the campus was empty.
“You know, it was surreal,” Sanchez said. “It was a difficult adjustment coming on board with no students on campus.”
Sanchez said he’d like to get more students back on campus. More than 16,000 students are attending classes either online or in-person this fall and winter. He said he hoped to attract others back after the school forgave roughly $1.5 million in tuition debt for 4,200 students.
“We see that as a tremendous opportunity to help them finish the goal that they had set for themselves,” Sanchez said.
The school also recently received a $600,000 addition to its endowment, courtesy of the largest financial gift in the school’s 60-year history. Sanchez said that money will help hundreds of students reach their goals.
“It represents the mission of Southwestern College,” a smiling Sanchez said.
“Having that opportunity and that extra help for students does make a difference,” agreed Karen Sanchez. “It does matter a lot.”
A Southwestern College spokeswoman said the school expects to have roughly 60% of its students back on campus in the spring.