Written by The Business Journal Staff
Forty years ago, Visalia couple Robert and Shirley Perry had a dream — they wanted to change lives by providing attainable quality education.
On April 14, 1978, the Perrys opened the first San Joaquin Valley College campus within two suites of a Visalia strip mall. The little school only had three students desiring a certificate in medical assisting.
Now, the family owned and operated college is not only accredited by the Western Association of College s— the same organization that accredits community colleges in the state — but it boasts around 5,000 active students on 14 brick-and-mortar campuses and online.
“San Joaquin Valley College has helped thousands of graduates in California achieve their goals and dreams,” said Wendy Mendes, vice president of administration.
Mendes joined the SJVC staff 39 years ago and said she’s been privileged to see the growth of the campus, which now offers 22 certificated programs in health, business and criminal justice, and technical and industrial trades.
She still remembers the day the Perrys brought in the school’s first computer.
“They have a commitment to excellence and even though, in the beginning, resources were slim, they never skimped on equipment for the classrooms and continued to improve facilities,” Mendes said. “Under Mark and Michael (Robert and Shirley’s sons), the first computers were brought into the classroom. I remember the first one in the office and all the excitement when we started teaching computer courses.”
Unlike traditional colleges, spots in courses for students are guaranteed — there is no wait list — and students can earn a Bachelor of Science degree in as little as 14 months. Mendes said the programs aren’t meant to compete with those offered at community colleges. Instead, she said, the college was established to provide students with another option that may be faster or fit in better with their schedule.
Mendes said SJVC is a prime example of the American dream and proof it can still be achieved today with a lot of hard work and dedication.
“When people say there are no more opportunities in this country, this is proof that there is,” Mendes said. “Preparation creates opportunity and 24/7 that is what Robert and Shirley did. You just have to be willing to work hard.”