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State Higher Ed Cuts Offer Opportunities For Private School Growth

— State budget cuts have reduced classes at California’s public universities and colleges. Some of San Diego’s private schools are looking to fill that void.

All of San Diego County’s community colleges have significantly reduced or eliminated summer courses. But Tom Finaly, chief operating officer of United States University, said the private for-profit school based in San Diego is stepping in to fill that void by offering a special summer session.

“All the courses we’re providing are general education courses that are very impacted at both the Cal State, UC and the community college systems because we can keep the lights on a still offer them at a very competitive price,” he said.

Each course costs $500. The school is offering half off on a student's first two classes. A typical community college class costs about $160. Finaly said the school currently serves about 420 students and they expect to add about 80 students through the summer classes, which start next week. United State University offers degrees and certificates in education, management, nursing, health science and general studies.

Alliant International University will be doing more than adding course sections. The school's Scripps Ranch campus has offered graduate programs and undergraduate degree completion in education, psychology and business since 2001.

Geoffrey Cox, president of the private, nonprofit school, said this fall the campus will start programs for students without previous undergraduate credits in those areas for one simple reason.

“We really see the need," he said. "I think as the public institutions in California find themselves more and more challenged to try to take all of the students who can benefit from education, we thought that there was something we could offer those students.”

Cox said school officials hope to be able to bring the cost of an Alliant degree close to the cost of a public university degree for some students with financial aid. The school has about 200 undergraduate students at its 1,200-student Scripps Ranch campus. Cox said they don't know how many new students will be attracted to the new degree programs, but they're hoping for at least 100 next semester.

Whether private institutions can provide the kind of affordable access to higher education that has traditionally been associated with public university is a question Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy, said is essential to ask. If they can be cost competitive then she is happy to see them creating programs that target students who are getting squeezed out of public schools.

"I think this is the type of collaboration that private institutions need to be doing in tight fiscal climates, like the one we're currently in," she said. "It helps the students, number one, by making sure that deserving students can get into a college, but it also helps the California economy. Because even though the state may be facing a tough fiscal climate right now, there's still going to be a need for educated workers."

Asha Cooper said the success of new programs like these should be measured by the overall cost and quality of the programs and whether students are able to attain degrees that add quality to their own lives and the job market.

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