In 1907, the California State Legislature passed the Caminetti Bill that allowed local California communities to form junior college districts to alleviate the financial burden of attending college by allowing students to stay home for the first two years of their higher education.
Ten years later, in the middle of World War I, the Federated Home & School Association of Santa Rosa agreed it was time that the community had its own junior college. During a special meeting on November 15, 1917, the association sent a recommendation to form a junior college to the Santa Rosa Board of Education. Santa Rosa Junior College was formally approved by the Board in spring 1918.
The next fall Santa Rosa Junior College offered its first classes at the Santa Rosa High School. Led by Associated Students Board President Sarah Fiske, SRJC’s student body numbered 19. SRJC’s first group of students was taught by a faculty
of eight educators. It would be another 13 years before the College had a faculty of its own. Floyd P. Bailey joined SRJC in 1919 as a Physics Instructor and became SRJC’s first President in 1934. Bailey summed up the College’s infancy when he said, “And so it was, without operating funds, using high school instructors on a part-time basis, in the face of a world war and a serious epidemic, in borrowed quarters with borrowed books, that SRJC began.”
While the nation reeled from the stock market crash and the effects of the Great Depression, SRJC was coming into its own as an independent institution during the 1930s. The two major tasks for the District were the selection of a governing board and identifying a permanent site for the campus. The first Board of Trustees for the College was appointed Santa Rosa and Sebastopol chambers of commerce in 1930, and included C.J. Tauzer, George Bech, Al Garcia, William Shuhaw, and Sheridan Baker.
This first Board of Trustees was convinced that a 40-acre site just north of Santa Rosa High School would be ideal for the campus. A favorite spot of Luther Burbank’s, there were plans to turn the site into a park, but funds could never be raised for the project. Rights to the property were secured in 1930. Construction of Pioneer Hall began in October 1930, followed by Geary Hall, Tauzer Gym, and Garcia Hall in the mid-1930s.
SRJC’s first President Floyd Bailey was appointed by the Board in 1934. SRJC’s famous brick and iron Legion Gate, constructed by the Theodore Roosevelt chapter of the American Legion and SRJC’s Block “S” Society, originally served as the entrance to the football field.
After a decade of growth, the early 1940s was a period of uncertainty for SRJC. Both faculty and students left the campus for the World War II war effort. Enrollment dipped from a peak of 1,012 in the fall of 1940 to only 235 students in the middle of the war years.
Established a few years earlier, all SRJC aviation students passed the government examinations without a single failure. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the College’s Aviation Program was moved to Ely, Nevada. While the war years were difficult for the College, some new programs were initiated, including what would become the SRJC School of Nursing.
In 1943, the College signed an agreement with the Ninth Service Command to establish an Army Special Training Program to house, feed, teach, and provide medical care for 750 young men. When the war ended, veterans flocked to the campus.
New traditions sprung up in the post-war years, including the first Homecoming event, which continued for more than 20 years. The school’s mascot, Rosco, was officially named after a 1949-50 student naming contest.
Exchange Bank President Frank P. Doyle passed away in 1948. In his will, Doyle directed that the bulk of his stock be placed in a Trust used for SRJC scholarships, which started a strong partnership between business and education to benefit generations of local students for decades to come. The Doyle Trust became one of the largest scholarship programs in the nation.
With the birth of rock ‘n roll, SRJC entered an era of stability during the 1950s. To serve the region’s growing population, SRJC established an Adult Education Program in 1952, with classes offered in the evenings at locations throughout the county. About 1,000 students were attracted to the 28 courses offered that spring. Later renamed Evening College, more than 6,000 students were enrolled in 286 classes in just over a decade.
An acute classroom shortage prompted another building boom during the 50s. In January 1954, with $50,000 from the Associated Students and the rest from the District, the College completed the Doyle Student Center, named in honor of Frank P. Doyle. Doyle was President of Exchange Bank until his death. When the first Doyle scholarships were distributed in 1950 and 1951, students were awarded $205 each for a total of $19,475. By January 1955, the Shuhaw Engineering Building was completed and Barnett Hall, the new business building, was put out to bid in 1957.
In 1952, the College began a refresher course for employed practical nurses. This laid the foundation for the two-year Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) program in 1955. And in 1959, the Dental Assisting Program was begun. In 1955 SRJC was given the seal of approval by a statewide accreditation team, which visited the College. The College’s athletic program excelled in the 1950s.
But the decade marked the end of an era for the College. In 1957, Floyd P. Bailey, the College’s first President, retired. Assistant to the President Randolph Newman succeeded Bailey after returning from earning a doctorate at UC Berkeley.
The decade of the 1960s at Santa Rosa Junior College was marked by growing diversity in the changing student population. SRJC was growing - enrollment in 1960 was 15,000 students, with 70 full-time faculty members.
Statewide, the role played by community colleges was also changing. The State Master Plan for Higher Education (1960-1975) set community colleges apart from the K-12 districts and established a separate Board of Governors for the California Community Colleges. In 1968, Barney Plover, a SRJC Trustee, became one of the first members of the Community College’s Board of Governors.
Through the late 1950s, SRJC had focused on transfer students and a strong liberal arts curriculum. During the 1960s, job preparation instruction became a more significant part of the College’s program. In 1963, the federal government passed the Vocational Education Act and SRJC responded. The Evening College eventually had enrollment that exceeded that of the day college as reentry and older working students returned to school. Summer classes were initiated in the late 1950s, offering programs to recent high school graduates.
National events also impacted SRJC’s programs in the 1960s. After Martin Luther King’s assassination, the College focused on attracting ethnic minority students. As a part of what eventually became the Educational Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS), the school began recruiting minority students, offering ethnic studies, and directly combating racism.
In 1969, Santa Rosa businessman and former Associated Student Board President Alan Milner worked with President Randolph Newman to form a SRJC Foundation to assist the College in developing broader educational opportunities to students.
Like the rest of the nation, SRJC was rocked by turbulence in the 1960s and early 1970s. Dissension was felt between faculty, students, and administration. In 1970, President Newman stepped down from the presidency.
The turmoil that faced the country as this decade opened washed across Santa Rosa Junior College. The Cambodian invasion in May 1970 caused SRJC to erupt like many colleges and universities across the nation. There were classroom boycotts and campus confrontations.
When President Newman stepped down in 1970, Vice President for Academic Affairs Brook Tauzer became the Acting President while the search for a third President began. Dr. Roy Mikalson was hired in 1971.
The 70s were also years of growth for SRJC. Enrollment topped 17,000 in 1975, and by decade’s end, the entire student records system would be computerized. The first associate in science degrees were offered in 1974.
The federal government granted SRJC the use of 365 acres for a college farm close to Forestville; the farm was named for former trustee Robert Shone. In 1974, the College opened a Petaluma center in temporary classrooms, later moving to the Sonoma/Marin Fairgrounds. The Northern California Criminal Justice Training Center was opened at Los Guilucos. National Park Service Seasonal Ranger Training was offered at the center and remains the only one in California today. The Summer Repertory Theater, the Art Gallery, and the Museum were all established in the 1970s. In 1977, graphic artist Doug Offenbacher donated key design elements of SRJC’s official logo that included oak leaves, acorns and modified flame.
Diversity increased during the 1970s, and the average SRJC student was nearly 30 years old. In the 60s, the average student was male; by 1976, 55 percent of students were female. At the same time, 12 percent of students were ethnic minorities, a figure that had been close to 0 percent the decade before.
Construction during the decade continued with the Plover Library (1971), the Quinn Swim Center (1973), Emeritus Hall (1978), which housed liberal arts departments, and Newman Hall, a 200-seat auditorium, Lark Hall (1979), the SRJC’s music building. Day Under the Oaks, organized as an open house and community education fair, was initiated by alumni Larry Bertolini and Laurie Beard in 1978.
Santa Rosa Junior College continued to thrive as the decade of the 1980s began. It was a time of fiscal uncertainty for community colleges at the state level, but SRJC weathered it well. Enrollment dipped slightly when cuts were made at the state level in 1982-1983, but by the mid-1980s the College bounced back and again attracted record numbers of students. In spring 1988, more than 30,000 students registered for classes. Major building slowed, but a new Planetarium opened in 1980, a new gym, Haehl Pavilion, was dedicated in 1982, and the 4,000-square-foot Charles D. Belden Center at Shone Farm was dedicated in fall 1983 from funds from community donations.
As enrollment at SRJC’s Petaluma Center expanded, the search for a permanent site began. In July 1986, the District purchased a 40-acre site in east Petaluma for a permanent campus. However, construction funds were not approved for another decade. A High-Tech Center for Students with Disabilities was approved in 1987-88.
By decade’s end, President Roy Mikalson announced his retirement after nearly 20 years at the College’s helm. When he took office, enrollment was 5,716; at his retirement, enrollment had reached more than 30,000 day and evening students at 15 locations.
The 1990s marked the beginning of a new era for SRJC. Dr. Robert F. Agrella, SRJC’s fourth President, was hired in the spring of 1990, taking the administrative reins when Dr. Roy Mikalson retired.
SRJC led community colleges into the information age with innovative computerized student records program and was poised to further embrace technology when the state was rocked by a recession. State funding for California’s community colleges was cut, and fees crept up to $12 per unit.
Enrollment fluctuated somewhat throughout the 1990s, yet SRJC continued to thrive. Telephone registration erased the long lines that had previously plagued students. Online registration was launched in the mid-1990s, and today the college Web site, www.santarosa.edu, offers a world of information and course details, with the majority of SRJC’s students enrolling online. SRJC’s use of the Internet expanded dramatically. Faculty began offering online studies as early as 1996 through the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE).
Classes began at the newly constructed permanent Petaluma Campus, and a small center in Coddingtown Mall opened, offering short-term classes to upgrade computer and business skills.
SRJC’s expansion west continued to its maximum boundary. The Pedroncelli Center, the Robert Call Child Development Center, and the Button Building were constructed in the 1990s. Late in the decade, an instructor was terminated after being accused of writing anonymous “hate mail.” Following the uproar among a sharply divided College, the instructor was reinstated two months later. Following the episode, the College drafted its own Magna Carta that outlined values and principles to guide the College.
The dawn of the new millennium has been a time of great success, growth, and positive changes for SRJC. In the College’s ninth decade, SRJC nursing and dental students consistently rank first in state for their high passing rate in state examinations. Student athletes typically maintain strong academic performance, and state championships are frequently won by Men’s Soccer, Women’s Swimming, and Baseball programs, with the Men’s Soccer team winning the national championship in 2001.
In 2000 and 2001, SRJC was named one of the “most wired” community colleges in the country, according to Yahoo! Internet Life Magazine, ranking 14th out of 1,132 institutions nationally and second in the state for two-year colleges.
As one of the largest employers in Sonoma County, with more than 3,500 staff, SRJC is one of the largest consumers of energy locally. SRJC was one of the first colleges in California to institute a broad conservation program aimed at energy efficiency—a focus that started in 1983. All new buildings are built with sustainable, green energy features to maximize energy cost reductions and minimize the College’s carbon footprint.
In January 2008, California Governor Schwarzenegger released a proposed budget for 2008-09 that included proposed budget cuts for most state programs, which hits education particularly hard. In preparation for the cuts, SRJC’s administration immediately began to reduce current year spending to save funds and buffer revenue reductions. The College has thrived, through lean years and through boom times, by watching enrollment trends, listening to students and the community, showing sound fiscal judgment, and by carefully planning growth to meet the ever-changing needs of the College and the District.
At commencement on May 28, 2011, five former students who were enrolled at SRJC during World War II - or their surviving family members - were recognized with honorary college degrees. These honorees were among 10 SRJC students of Japanese ancestry who were affected by the U.S. Executive Order 9066 in 1942 that forced them to leave their college studies and relocate to internment camps during the course of the war. SRJC is proud to be part of the “California Nisei College Diploma Project,” which estimated that 2,500 students across the CSU, UC, and CCC systems were eligible to receive such honorary college degrees.