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State Budget Crisis Good for Private Colleges

State Budget Crisis Good for Private Colleges

The Fresno Bee

August 31, 2009

Representatives say at least some of it may be because of the woes at Fresno State. But, they add, other factors are likely at play as well, including more students returning to the classroom to make themselves more marketable to employers in the recession.

Denise Benavides and Christopher Salazar, both 19, said they considered Fresno State but chose for-profit DeVry University — not because of budget problems, but because accelerated degree programs will get them into the work force more quickly.

“We hear some of our students say they’re coming here because their applications weren’t accepted at Fresno State or they couldn’t get their courses,” said Stephen Varvis, vice president for enrollment at Fresno Pacific University. “And some of them are saying now the economy is settling down and they’re ready to do something.”

Fresno Pacific, a Christian, nonprofit university in southeast Fresno, expected to enroll about 2,500 students this fall — about 5% more than last year, Varvis said. The university stepped up its advertising earlier this year, increased its opportunities for providing financial aid and student loans, and began offering a four-year graduation guarantee for incoming freshmen.

National University, a nonprofit based in San Diego, has campuses throughout California and Nevada. At both its Fresno and Bakersfield centers, enrollments are 5% higher than in 2007, including Valley students taking classes online, National University spokesman David Neville said.

University of Phoenix and DeVry University, both for-profit private institutions with centers in Fresno, also reported growing enrollment.

“I don’t know if we can distinguish whether that growth is because of what’s happening at Fresno State, or the recession or anything else,” said Joseph Coppola, dean of DeVry University’s Fresno campus.

In the South Valley, Brandman University’s centers in Hanford, Lemoore and Visalia are growing as well. Brandman, a nonprofit affiliate of Orange County’s Chapman University, reports overall enrollment is up 27% over last year in Hanford. At Lemoore Naval Air Station, there are 32% more students, and a 7% increase is reported at its Visalia center.

Officials at Fresno State aren’t surprised that students are looking elsewhere because of enrollment constraints and course cuts.

“It only stands to reason that the private schools are going to gain,” said Bernie Vinovrski, associate vice president for enrollment at Fresno State.

Fresno State’s enrollment is about 21,200 this semester, compared to about 22,000 a year ago.

Private schools are not using Fresno State’s struggles as a marketing point.

“We’ve avoided that specifically,” DeVry’s Coppola said. Business is business, he said, “but there are too many people in this Valley who need an education for anyone to try to monopolize it.”

Brandman University media representative Diana Torralvo said the school is working with public universities to keep students on track for graduation. That includes a partnership with the CSU system allowing students to take classes at Brandman and apply those credits toward their state degree.

At National University in Fresno, director of student services Marie Cheek said many of the questions coming to her office are from students who want to take a class or two to fill gaps in their Fresno State schedule.

“If there’s a class they can’t get into, they can meet with our advisers, get a catalog description of a class and check with Fresno State to see if it’s equivalent,” Cheek said. “The last thing we want someone to do is pay a private-university tuition for a class and not have it transfer over.”

Students who choose a private-university option say smaller classes, better schedules and accelerated progress toward graduation are worth paying far more than they would at Fresno State. Most rely on student loans, scholarships and other forms of financial aid.

“The tuition is more expensive, but I consider it an investment in my education,” said Benavides, who is working on a bachelor’s degree in technical management at DeVry with an emphasis in criminology. “It’s worth it if I can finish a year early and get a job in my field sooner.”

“The student loans are a downside,” said Salazar, who is studying electronics and computer technology. “But the classes are small, it’s hands on, and I can graduate earlier.” He will graduate with an associate degree from DeVry in December, less than a year and a half after he started.