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Carol A. Cox was not an elected official, a senior level administrator or business executive, but she was the catalyst which resulted in the creation of what is today California State University San Marcos.
As a 39-year-old re-entry student, Cox asked the question of why there were no four-year institutions of higher learning in North San Diego County.
“Our state college system is supposed to serve everyone and it just wasn’t doing that in North San Diego County,” said Cox. “When I started asking questions about what it would take to get a university in North County, no one had the answers.”
Nobody knew the process or steps because no CSU campus (nor any four-year university in the country) had been created in 25 years. Cox began working with administrators at San Diego State University to outline a plan of what it would take to bring university classes to North County. Although she had never visited a legislative office before nor ever corresponded with any of her representatives, Cox decided the time had come. She visited Sacramento, calling on the local elected officials and it was then-Assemblyman William A. Craven who took an interest in her proposal. When he asked how much it would cost to begin offering classes in North County, Cox had the answer — $250,000. Assemblyman Craven was impressed with the homework she had done and the plan she laid out and let her know that if she could garner community support, he would carry the $250,000 budget augmentation.
With the backing of Craven, Cox went home and started to work getting that community support. She got letters or proclamations from every school district board, from every chamber of commerce board and took her proposal to every city council in the region. The growing buzz regarding an institute of higher learning in North County began to attract media attention with one local paper even assigning a reporter to cover Cox’s efforts. In just seven months, from March to September of 1978, Cox had created enough momentum that the CSU Chancellor’s Office felt compelled to hold a public hearing and hear firsthand from the residents of North County. While the CSU was not yet willing to back a university for the region, Cox was undaunted in her mission.
Cox even took a semester off from school to devote her attention to bringing higher education to North County. She continued to send letters of support, news articles and other information to the Chancellor’s Office, legislators and the California Post-Secondary Education Commission. She even testified before the Commission as well as the Ways and Means Committee. The effort paid off and the Governor’s 1979 budget included $250,000 for the establishment of San Diego State University – North County.
“I went from a housewife at home with five children to this person that was calling and in constant contact with sources I had never had contact with before,” said Cox. “It was a thrilling learning experience; and, ultimately we were successful.”
Finally, in the fall of 1979, San Diego State University – North County began offering classes at Lincoln Jr. High in Vista, and of course Cox was the first student to register. The campus remained at the location until 1982 when it moved to rented office space in San Marcos. Budgetary constraints made growth of the fledging campus difficult. Prop 13 had recently passed and education was hurting on all levels. Cox and by then Senator Craven were determined to see the campus grow and looked for alternative methods of funding and innovative approaches.
Cox continued in her public service role joining Senator Craven’s staff first as an intern and then as a field representative. All the while both she and Craven never lost sight of the dream of a full-fledged four-year campus in North County.
In 1983, Cox was tapped by then San Diego State University President Thomas Day to chair and create the San Diego State University – North County Advisory Council. Cox filled the council, putting a group together that would represent all of North County and its many facets. The Council soon began hearing rumors that there might be a permanent off-campus center created. The first step was passage of legislation authorizing a feasibility study. Senator Craven was successful in getting SB 1060 passed and the feasibility study began.
“We knew what the results were going to be,” said Cox. “It was obvious that the demand was already here. We were running out of room. There were demands for more majors, more classrooms, and more professors. When you looked at the SANDAG projects, the demand was just going to keep increasing. The report came in and called not for a permanent off-campus center but a full four-year university.”
After negotiating nearly impossible hurdles, Cox saw her dream of public higher education in the region become a reality when Governor George Deukmejian signed into law Senate Bill 365 in September 1989 and California State University San Marcos was founded. At the groundbreaking ceremony on February 23, 1990, Cox and Senator Craven took turns with the shovel.
“I think there is a grand plan and I think when things are right, certain people come together to make things happen. I believe that is what happened with Cal State San Marcos.”
Her commitment and contribution to the university continued as she was appointed the first chair of the CSUSM President’s Advisory Council. She also chaired the CSU San Marcos Fundraising Committee which raised over $250,000 for the new University. The Carol A. Cox Scholarship Fund for Re-Entry Women was established in her name by the University and Cox actively raised funds for this endowment which has awarded a scholarship annually since 1994.
In 2010 as the University celebrates its 20th anniversary, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of Carol Cox, over 23,000 alumni now claim California State University San Marcos as their alma mater.
In recognition of her civic accomplishments as a community leader and her public service to the region, Carol A. Cox will be awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws during the May 15 commencement ceremonies for California State University San Marcos.