The lighted windows of the elegant, 1920s-era former hotel beckoned through the gloom of a recent rainy night in Lake County. Inside the castle-like building were four students in an undergraduate abnormal psychology course at what is a satellite campus of Marymount California University.
The students, in their mid- to late-20s, work during the day. Most have young children. All are determined to complete their college degrees as quickly as possible.
While the campus’ students are hardworking and enthusiastic, they are few. The college has just 26 undergraduate students, raising questions about its long-term viability.
“There’s no question we continue to subsidize” the Lucerne campus, said Ariane Schauer, provost and executive vice president of Marymount California University, a private, not-for-profit college. It’s affiliated with, but receives no funding from, the Catholic Church. The county also is subsidizing the college by waiving its rent for the first five years.
Schauer said it’s up to the university’s board of trustees to determine whether a campus is viable and it has not made any decisions. The college also has not determined how many students it needs to be sustainable, she said. Marymount formally opened the Lucerne campus in 2014 with 17 undergraduate students. There were 27 undergraduates in 2015.
Next semester, more than half of the 23 courses offered will be online. Ten will be hybrid classes that typically meet in person every other week, said Kathy Windrem, the campus enrollment coordinator, a change that doesn’t sit well with some students.
“That is quite frustrating,” said Chelsea McMilin, 26, of Ukiah, a psychology major who works with special needs students. “I’m taking five classes next semester (and) only one is in person. That’s not what I signed up for,” adding she could have taken courses at any number of colleges if she wanted to study online.
The county invested a significant amount of redevelopment funds on the hotel, hoping it would become an economic boon to the county. It purchased the building in 2010 for $1.35 million and spent more than $3 million to prepare it for tenants. Improvements included replacing the roof, plumbing and electrical work, installation of an elevator and making the building disability accessible.
Marymount spent about $1 million on creating and updating classrooms and bathrooms in the section it occupies, Schauer said.
But a majority of the rooms, which the county had expressed hope might eventually be used for student dormitories, remain untouched and empty. Schauer said she’s unaware of any past or future plans for dormitories at the facility.