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State Budget Crisis Good for Private Colleges

State Budget Crisis Good for Private Colleges

The Fresno Bee

August 31, 2009

Aug. 31—California’s budget crisis is creating a business opportunity for private colleges and trade schools in the central San Joaquin Valley.

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Students faced with class cuts at community colleges and California State University, Fresno, are finding — and paying more for — educational alternatives. It’s more expensive, but in many cases it’s easier to get into classes and faster to get out with a degree.

Laura Gonzales is one of them. Gonzales, 25, of Fresno enrolled at National University’s north Fresno center for a credential and a master’s degree in educational counseling after Fresno State dramatically sliced its program. Gonzalez earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Fresno State in May.

“I wanted to go back to Fresno State to get my credential in guidance counseling,” she said, “but they told me I wouldn’t be able to get in, because they denied so many students from the previous year.”

Undergraduate fees in the publicly subsidized CSU system have nearly tripled over the past 10 years, and state budget woes created a $564 million shortfall across the 23 campuses.

At Fresno State, the budget gap is about $44.6 million, forcing administrators to cut nearly 1,200 fall class sections — about 20% of the offerings — and reduce staffing and close some offices for furlough days. That has the potential to delay graduation for many students.

There’s no shortage of alternatives, however. About a half dozen private schools — some run for profit — offer baccalaureate programs in the central San Joaquin Valley.

None is cheap, however. Four-year tuition for a bachelor’s degree program can cost anywhere from about $32,000 at tiny California Christian College to about $95,000 at Fresno Pacific University.

Larger, out-of-town schools with Valley locations fall somewhere in the middle — between about $44,000 and $55,000 for a bachelor’s degree program, depending on the major.

Most students at private colleges must rely on student loans — incurring a debt burden that can run into tens of thousands of dollars. That means the decision to get into school quickly can have long-lasting financial consequences.

Fees for a four-year undergraduate degree at Fresno State, by contrast, are about $18,700. But that presumes a student can get the classes needed to finish a degree in four years, and that fees don’t rise. Budget cuts and class reductions make both presumptions increasingly unlikely.

Hard-and-fast enrollment numbers for private institutions are difficult to come by. Most don’t make their enrollment figures public, but all say they are seeing increases in the Valley.