As the third-oldest indie college in Southern California, Woodbury University in Burbank–a small private organization with a solid reputation for turning out architects and fashion designers–has a nagging problem. Although the school was founded in 1884, Woodbury’s administrators chose this season that their biggest problem was that the campus remains practically unknown to everyone. So the school recently employed a PR firm to help it develop a community image–110 years after opening for business. Such anonymity is among the many issues faced by the private colleges, colleges, and trade institutions that operate in the San Fernando Valley, adjoining valleys and Ventura County.
This region has at least 26 degree-granting establishments, plus an estimated 140 state-licensed profession schools. As the local private schools have been generally overshadowed by a range of public and higher-profile universities in Southern California, some private schools have prospered through the recession by carving out specific academic or profession programs in the training marketplace.
Some local nonprofit colleges such as Woodbury and Learning Tree University, which operate in 1000 and Chatsworth Oaks, have increased their enrollments in recent years despite the recession. Through the same period, Cal State community and University college enrollments have dropped as their fees have risen. Woodbury President Paul Sago said because his school has centered on simply a few career-specific programs it offers kept enrollment strong even though Woodbury’s tuition also offers increased, 8% to 12% annually in recent years. “I believe we are distinctive.
Woodbury University is employable,” Sago said. The private college sector has its problems, however, especially among for-profit schools. Lax state regulation through the 1980s led California to gain a national reputation as a haven for diploma mills that selling degrees. And financial-aid fraud and questionable programs abound still, officials said. In one case, in June revoked the license of 18-year-old Kensington School in Glendale–a for-profit the condition, study-at-home college that offers bachelor’s, doctorate, and master’s levels in many fields–after finding it didn’t meet state specifications.
The school’s owner has denied the allegations and he programs to challenge the ruling in the courtroom. Illustrating the vast variations among private schools, Woodbury University, aside from its small course offerings, works much just like a traditional university. Woodbury has an attractive campus, more than 1,000 students, and its own classes have lecturers, laboratories, and a collection.
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By comparison, the training Tree, headquartered in industrial buildings, with evening courses on a multitude of trendy topics resembles UCLA’s expansion program. And Kensington’s study-at-home approach holds no actual classes. That variety is echoed through the region’s private universities. Among those that grant academic levels, for instance, arts are the area of expertise at the respected California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, while Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula requires a “read great books” method of learning. The rule’s procedure for these educational schools is Byzantine.
Most private post-secondary academic institutions are regulated by the condition Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, a little-known company which oversees more than 2,100 private career schools. The council also regulates 200-plus private colleges and colleges that aren’t certified by another prominent group, the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Woodbury, though, is accredited by WASC, so it doesn’t need state approval. Learning Tree’s founder said he has received an exemption from the constant state.