By Bryan Starr, President & CEO, Greater Irvine Chamber
When Irvine was master planned more than 60 years ago around a research intuition—what is now University of California, Irvine—the city’s long-term economic success was intentionally prioritized. It proved to be a smart move. Irvine produces some of the brightest minds that bolster a highly skilled workforce and drive innovations across myriad industries.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2017 and 2021, about 69% of Irvine residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher—more than double the national (34%) and state (35%) figures.
Irvine’s nationally ranked K-12 schools establish the foundation for successful higher learning at 15 colleges and universities that have a physical presence in the city. For many companies and startups, proximity and access to a well-educated population and workforce is an important consideration in selecting Irvine for their business operations.
Education in Irvine has not rested on its collective laurels. Irvine educators and places of learning have continually adapted, evolved, and expanded to foster curiosity, collaboration, and ambition to achieve new heights in innovation and discovery in new frontiers. A reflection of all that Irvine has to offer students—from our own backyard and around the world—tells the story of educational excellence.
Master-Planned Around Education
By most accounts, University of California, Irvine (UCI)began with about 1,500 students when it officially opened its doors for learning in 1965. The university graduated 14 students during its first commencement in 1966. Today, UCI serves more than 37,000 students and offers 222 degree programs.
UCI has been ranked among the nation’s top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report for nine consecutive years. UCI is one of 71 research universities elected into the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced five Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, and innovation. The Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences is the only school of its kind in the University of California system.
In the 2021-2022 academic term, the university has conferred more than 11,300 degrees, from bachelor’s to Ed.D., Ph.D., D.N.P., J.D., and M.D. The university this year launched its Graduate Division A2i program to help deepen connections between graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with a wide range of industries.
UCI’s commitment to the health sciences is unmatched in Orange County, and it is home to UCI Health, the county’s only academic health system. UCI also features programs in medicine, nursing, public health, and pharmaceutical sciences. Its centerpiece is the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences complex, which includes a state-of-the-art, five-story, 108,200-square-foot building for the college and the Susan Samueli IntegrativeHealth Institute, as well as an adjoining four-story-level, 71,500-square-foot building for the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing.
The university is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. UCI is a major contributor to the region’s talent-rich workforce. With major expansions underway, the university's economic impact continues to grow.
Health Science in Irvine Spectrum Area
Established in 2014, Chapman University's Harry and Diane Rinker Health Science Campus located in Irvine is dedicated to graduate-level health science education and research. Just 15 miles away from the main university campus in Orange, Irvine is the ideal location for the Rinker campus, given its proximity to hospitals and abundant medical science businesses.
The Rinker campus is home to the School of Pharmacy and Physician Assistant Studies, Physical Therapy, and Speech Language Therapy housed within the Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. All are nationally accredited. Currently, there are 237 students enrolled in the Rinker campus’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, 97 in Master of Physician Assistant Sciences, 92 in Master of Speech Language Therapy, and 207 in the Doctor of Pharmacy degree program.
A Gem on a Hill
Tucked away in the beautiful hills at the edge of the Turtle Rock community, Concordia University Irvine—part of the Concordia University System—is a private, nonprofit Christian university and one of the founding institutions of higher education in Irvine. For nearly 50 years, Concordia has focused on developing wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens to serve society and the church. Today, Concordia educates nearly 5,000 students on campus and online and is recognized as a top-ranked university for Social Mobility, by U.S. News & World Report.
In 2022, Concordia’s Master of Healthcare Administration program earned accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education. With this accreditation, the University becomes the only online MHA program on the West Coast to receive the accreditation. This year, Concordia’s School of Business and Economics was re-accredited by the International Accreditation Council of Business Education.
Concordia University Irvine opened its second Irvine campus in August at the Spectrum Irvine, which houses its growing Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, as well as other healthcare programs.
In recent years, Concordia has instituted new undergraduate health care programs, computer science, and engineering. New graduate programs include expanded teacher credential offerings, a doctoral program in educational leadership, an executive coaching degree, a doctoral degree in counseling offered by the Townsend Institute, and a sports management emphasis in its MBA program.
In 2022, Concordia was accepted into the #CaliforniansForAll College Corps program, which is a service fellowship that provides students with college funding while engaging them in community problem-solving in the fields of K-12 education, climate action, and food insecurity. Concordia has partnered with Irvine Valley College and Vanguard University to create a College Corps consortium of 200 fellows.
A College for the Community
Established as an independent institution in 1985, after serving as a satellite campus since 1979, Irvine Valley College prepares students for in-demand industries through 159 degree and certificate programs. In the 2022-2023 academic year, IVC awarded 2,769 degrees. More than 14,500 students are enrolled for the fall 2023 term. Over the past five years, full transfer certifications and degree and certificate conferrals have doubled, and associate degrees for transfer have tripled.
IVC students have excellent prospects for their next level of education. IVC has the highest transfer rate of all community colleges in California and is the top Orange County community college to transfer students to the University of California system. IVC is ranked third among California community colleges by EDsmart.org, a nationally recognized publisher of college resources and rankings.
Educating Irvine’s Youth
Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) serves roughly 36,000 Pre-K-12 students annually through 45 schools and programs. Since 2013, IUSD has opened 10 state-of-the-art schools to meet the needs of a growing community.
Irvine high schools—Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University, and Woodbridge—have consistently ranked high on Newsweek’s List of America’s Top High Schools. IUSD is ranked California’s highest-performing school district in science, math, and English language arts and literacy, outperforming Orange County and State score averages. IUSD schools have been awarded nearly 90 California Distinguished Schools, and Blue and Gold Ribbon designations since 1986. IUSD high school SAT scores consistently rank top in Orange County and the state.
Other school districts serving Irvine residents are Santa Ana Unified and Tustin Unified, which has a school, Arnold O. Beckman High School, located in Irvine.
Good for Business
In addition to being a great place for families to live—with its master-planned network of beautifully appointed residential villages nestled in convenient proximity to recreation and permanently preserved open space, neighborhood retail centers, and modern business complexes—Irvine’s exceptional education is a top draw for executives when selecting a place to establish a business. Executives routinely tell me that having a readily available pipeline of skilled workers is an invaluable benefit.
The Greater Irvine Chamber celebrates Irvine’s world-class education as part of what helps the city live up to its promise as a model master-planned community and its ability to sustain economic vitality by ensuring a continued skilled workforce.
During its Thursday, Nov. 16 Distinguished Educators event at the Hilton Irvine, the Greater Irvine Chamber will recognize outstanding Irvine educators and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) programs offered in greater Irvine.