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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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State cutbacks send many to private colleges

By
April 25, 2011 |

By Nanette Asimov

For a student hoping to study psychology, Ashley Ward of Pacifica learned an unbeatable lesson in classic double bind theory when she enrolled at San Francisco State University last year.

“I needed to have already taken statistics for psychology — but they wouldn’t let me sign up for the class because I wasn’t declared a psych major,” Ward said, describing a common catch-22 of the cash-strapped California State University system. “That’s when I decided I didn’t want to go here anymore.”

She transferred to Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont this year, joining a growing number of students so frustrated by cutbacks at public campuses that they are flocking in record numbers to California’s small private schools despite facing higher tuition and the potential for years of debt.

“There has been a huge increase in applicants,” said Jonathan Brown, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 76 private, nonprofit campuses in California. “The price of the public universities has gone up, and the availability of spaces has gone down.”

Those financial woes are about to get worse. The state is slashing CSU and University of California budgets by at least $500 million each next year.

CSU has said it will reject 10,000 qualified students, while UC President Mark Yudof said UC expects to turn away “tens of thousands” over the next decade.

Transfer requests way up

Transfer requests to tiny Notre Dame de Namur have more than doubled since 2008 — from 106 to 240 so far this year — hinting that more community college students are avoiding public universities.

Other small private schools are also seeing dramatic growth in transfer applications for next fall.

At the University of San Francisco, requests are up 24 percent over last year at this time.

Mills College in Oakland already is seeing an 18 percent increase over the total for last year, while requests for Santa Clara University are 24 percent higher so far than last year’s total.

At Dominican University in San Rafael, transfer applications rose 38 percent from 2009 to 2010, with requests from CSU and UC students nearly doubling, from 61 to 119. Transfer applications from those schools are at 103 so far this year.

Ryan Shilling’s was accepted.

“My main thing was that I couldn’t get into my classes” at Cal State East Bay, said Shilling, 21, of Castro Valley.

He originally transferred to Cal State East Bay in Hayward last fall from Chabot Community College, planning to live with his parents and work at a grocery store to pay the $5,100 annual tuition.

All went well, at first. But problems emerged in January when Shilling, a junior, ran into a registration traffic jam. Seniors who hadn’t gotten courses they needed were now crowding out the economics, business and computers classes Shilling wanted.

“I was mad,” he said. “I’m basically thinking, ‘OK, I’m tired of dealing with this. I’ll give Dominican a call.’ ”

Calculated risk

The school had earlier expressed interest in Shilling because of his soccer talents, but he thought the price was too high: $35,200 this year, rising to $36,900 next fall, plus the cost of living on campus.

Yet Shilling isn’t planning a career in risk management for nothing. Financial aid from Dominican will cut his tuition in half. It’s still three times the price of CSU, but he figures his eventual income will let him pay off his inevitable loans.

“Cost-benefit-wise, yeah, I’m paying more. But I’m basically getting the classes I need without any hassle,” he said.

The public universities’ pain may be the private universities’ gain, but Dominican’s vice president of enrollment, Patricia Coleman, called it a grim victory.

“I just don’t think anyone in California is going to be OK if we don’t fund our colleges and universities,” Coleman said.

At UC Davis, freshman Laura Chadwell understands that too well. Majoring in viticulture, she has to take a series of chemistry classes. But Davis just canceled Chem 2b next fall, saying there were too many students and not enough labs.

“I can’t move forward in my education if my classes aren’t available,” Chadwell said. “I want to be a winemaker, and this is one of the only schools. So I have to stick it out.”

Soured on S.F. State

Others don’t.

“I love psychology,” said Ward, who transferred to Notre Dame de Namur when San Francisco State’s program was so overcrowded that there was no room for her. “I was forced to take courses I wasn’t interested in just to get the units, and that’s not a quality education. I was in a bad mood all the time.”

Like Shilling, Ward, 23, has to pay for school herself. A part-time banquet server, she took out a $14,000 loan at a nearly 10 percent interest rate.

On the day she was scheduled to sign up for her first classes at Notre Dame de Namur last fall, she turned on her computer. Scrolling through the site, Ward paused where it asked, “Major?”

She typed p-s-y-c-h-o-l-o-g-y, pressed enter, and smiled as her choice was accepted.

— Reach Nanette Asimov at nasimov@sfchronicle.com

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