ESCONDIDO — Thanks to a generous donation, John Paul the Great Catholic University is expanding its footprint in the city.
Terry and Barbara Caster donated $1.5 million to the school and with a recent purchase of a downtown Escondido building the campus will double in size.
President Dr. Derry Connolly said the new building would allow the university to increase its curriculum, especially in the creative arts, and enrollment. Currently, 300 students attend the university.
“It’s hugely exciting,” Connolly said. “It gives us a lot of room for expansion in the next decade.”
Four buildings now dot the small campus in downtown, but the new addition along 2nd Avenue consists of a 30,000 square-foot building with 100 parking spaces on 1.25 acres.
It also provides space for a dedicated chapel, will add an auditorium for the theology program, which is expected to be the largest in the state by 2020.
Other additions include larger classrooms, film sound stages, editing lab, screening room, an acting lab and performance stage.
The school moved to Escondido from Scripps Ranch several years ago, which Connolly said was in part due to the possibilities for growth.
“That was one of the things that was appealing was the availability of real estate,” he added.
Growth, meanwhile, is a priority as Connolly said the goal is to reach 1,200 students in the next decade.
Aiding the cause, meanwhile, is a budding online curriculum, which started in 2009 and doubled over the past year.
“The market is absolutely huge, so if you can conquer a little corner of it, there’s huge opportunities,” he said. “We like niches. We found a couple and we are exploiting those.”
For now, though, the school will expand the School of Creative Arts and Business to continue its growth in the cinematic arts. Connolly said the university has carved out a niche in specific areas of film as the school targets young students who want to be part of a Catholic-Christian environment.
Connolly said building connections with faculty out of Hollywood as six to 10 industry practitioners teach classes at the school each week.
“That is very compelling to the students,” he added. “They like the faculty, they like the curriculum. Escondido has been a good location, surprisingly.”
In addition to film, the school also offers classes and programs in gaming, animation, acting and business. The theology program, meanwhile, is “almost all” online, Connolly said, which frees up space for the hands-on courses such as needed for film and acting.
“I don’t know how you do an acting program online,” Connolly said. “Our film production is very hands on. So, it wouldn’t work well online.”
Another goal for the university is to create the largest theology school in the state. Currently, the school offers a master’s program in Biblical Theology, but will add a bachelor’s program in 2017 and doctorate program in 2022.
In addition, the school also boasts an incubator program to foster start-up businesses, similar to one in Carlsbad focusing on life sciences. Connolly said there are four entertainment-related businesses in the incubator.
“We hope to have an economic impact in Escondido,” he added. “It’s really taken off in the past year-and-a-half.”