As the third-oldest independent college in Southern California, Woodbury University in Burbank–a small private organization with a good reputation for turning out architects and fashion designers–has a nagging problem. Although the institution was founded in 1884, Woodbury’s administrators chose this year that their biggest problem was that the campus remains practically unknown to everyone. So the university or college recently hired a pr firm to make it develop a community image–110 years after opening for business. Such anonymity is among the many issues faced by the private schools, trade and colleges universities that operate in the San Fernando Valley, adjoining valleys and Ventura County.
This region has at least 26 degree-granting institutions, plus an estimated 140 state-licensed career schools. While the local private academic institutions have been largely overshadowed by a range of open public and higher-profile institutions in Southern California, some private schools have prospered through the tough economy by carving out specialized academic or career programs in the training marketplace.
Some local nonprofit institutions such as Woodbury and Learning Tree University, which operates in Thousand and Chatsworth Oaks, have increased their enrollments in recent years despite the tough economy. During the same period, Cal State University and community college enrollments have dropped as their fees have risen. Woodbury President Paul Sago said because his school has centered on only 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 think we are distinctive.
Woodbury University are employable,” Sago said. The private school sector has its problems, however, among for-profit schools especially. Lax state regulation through the 1980s led California to gain a national reputation as a haven for diploma mills that sold degrees. And financial-aid fraud and doubtful programs abound still, officials said. In a single case, the condition in June revoked the license of 18-year-old Kensington University in Glendale–a for-profit, study-at-home school that offers bachelor’s, get better at’s and doctorate degrees in many fields–after finding it failed to meet state specifications.
The school’s owner has refused the allegations and he plans to concern the ruling in courtroom. Illustrating the vast variations among private colleges, Woodbury University, aside from its narrow course offerings, works much like a traditional college or university. Woodbury comes with an attractive campus, more than 1,000 students, and its classes have lecturers, laboratories and a library.
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By comparison, the Learning Tree, headquartered in industrial buildings, resembles UCLA’s expansion program with night time classes on a multitude of trendy topics. And Kensington’s study-at-home approach holds no actual classes. That variety is echoed through the region’s private schools. Among the ones that grant academic degrees, for instance, arts are the area of expertise at the respected California Institute of the creative arts in Valencia, while Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula takes a “read great books” method of learning. The rules procedure for these institutions is Byzantine.
Most private post-secondary colleges 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 universities and schools 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 state.