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The Brain Trust


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ON FIRST IMPRESSION, San Diego may seem much too relaxed to harness the intellectual energy of eight Nobel laureates and a world-renowned scientific and academic community. But there’s a lot of brainpower churning under these sunny skies. Some 30 percent of adult San Diegans hold college degrees, and San Diego has more Ph.D.s per capita than any other region in the country. At the most conservative estimate, at least 20 percent of the county’s adults are involved in higher education as students, staff or faculty.

Three major universities serve as the catalyst for San Diego’s growing intellectual capital. The oldest and largest, San Diego State University (SDSU), sprawls in a collage of parking lots, buildings and construction sites on Montezuma Mesa in east San Diego. Set above Mission Bay and Old Town, the small, private University of San Diego (USD) sits like a vintage Spanish village under the blue domes of Immaculata Church, surely the prettiest Catholic wedding site in the county. In La Jolla, the wunderkind University of California at San Diego (UCSD) is the nexus of what some call the next Silicon Valley, the cluster of research institutes and high-tech/ biotech businesses in the north city.

These three universities are at the leading edge of an ever-expanding industry in higher education. “Each has a different mission and different characteristics,” says Richard D. Atkinson, who left his post as UCSD’s chancellor in October 1995 to become president of the statewide University of California system. And each is undergoing profound change in administration and future planning.

All three universities have new presidents or chancellors and renewed missions to reach out to the larger community, where education is a precious commodity. The schools all have large percentages of San Diego natives in their student enrollments and regularly cycle local high-school grads through to the professional community. Those students and faculty who come from outside the region to study and teach tend to linger as well, which helps account for our highly educated populace.

The numbers add up.

* The trio of leading universities—SDSU, USD and UCSD—have a combined enrollment of more than 50,000 undergrad, graduate and doctoral students.

* UCSD’s Extension program has some 40,000 participants in education outreach centers in La Jolla, Rancho Bernardo and downtown San Diego. SDSU’s College of Extended Studies reaches similar numbers each year.

* More than 100,000 alumni of SDSU alone continue to work in the region.

* San Diego’s Community College District serves some 94,000 students in its credit and continuing-education programs.

* Private National University, which specializes in giving working adults a convenient way to earn college degrees and improve skills, has awarded more than 50,000 degrees in its 25-year history.

Thousands more students pack the campuses at colleges spread throughout the county. The law schools at California Western and Thomas Jefferson have educated some of the region’s finest lawyers and judges, while other local colleges specialize in education, architecture, advertising and psychology.

“There is an amazing diversity of opportunity here,” says Alice Bourke Hayes, a transplant from St. Louis, Missouri, who assumed the presidency of USD in July 1995.

Recently, science and research have become higher ed’s most visible contributions to the community. San Diego’s economic shift from the military and defense industries dovetails neatly with the maturation of science and research institutes in the Torrey Pines neighborhood near UCSD in La Jolla. Biotech, telecommunications, computer and other high-tech industries are buttressed and fed by a wealth of research centers including the Salk Institute, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Scripps Research Institute. At SDSU, the International Center of Communications is directing San Diego toward a new role director John M. Eger calls “an international information hub and a city of the future.”

The brain trust that accrues in a new-wave college town is truly astounding, and it isn’t limited just to the sciences. The UCSD campus is home to the La Jolla Playhouse, a premier force on the national theater scene. USD was chosen as one of three nationwide sites for the 1996 presidential debates (no doubt in part because of its legal and political connections). SDSU, the workhorse of local universities with its thousands of alumni running San Diego County, continues to offer a first-rate education and degrees in 76 areas, with some of the best programs in the country in business, education, engineering and communications.

The universities also contribute heavily to the local economy. “We have an astonishing economic impact,” says Hayes. “We’re probably one of the major industries in town.” She cites a recent economic impact study compiled by the school’s business department showing that in returns to the community, USD doubles each dollar it receives. A similar study shows UCSD (which includes the UCSD Medical Center) to be the fourth-largest employer in the city, attracting some $730 million to the San Diego region each year.

“I think all the institutions are just outstanding, and really lay the base for a strong future for San Diego,” says Atkinson.

HIGHER EDUCATION is a young industry in San Diego, a young city. As might be expected in Southern California, the first local intellectual institute was hardly traditional. Madame Katherine Tingley’s School for the Revival of Lost Mysteries of Antiquity was founded in 1896 on the grounds of what’s now Point Loma Nazarene College. Madame Tingley and her followers were immersed in the philosophical leanings of the theosophy movement and opposed war, capital punishment, electric-power poles and the materialism of science. There is some irony in science becoming one of San Diego’s leading industries.

On a more traditional note, the roots of San Diego State began settling into the city in 1898, with the opening of the State Normal School in University Heights, not far from downtown. The school graduated its first class of 26 in 1900, and in 1921 became San Diego State Teachers’ College. By 1925, enrollment exceeded 1,300 and the college had outgrown its intellectual and physical boundaries. In 1931, after much wrangling over location and funding, State finally gained a larger home—125 acres of mesas, valleys and steep hills east of the city’s center—for a college that has now grown to a university encompassing some 283 acres and 28,000 students.

The move to Montezuma Mesa, as State’s neighborhood is now called, marked the beginning of an era for the college and the surrounding community. “It meant the transition from the 19th century and Victorian era to the 20th century of science and technology,” writes Professor Lewis B. Lesley in a history of the school. The school was renamed San Diego State College in 1935 and began offering bachelor’s degrees in areas other than teaching.

As a state institute mandated to provide affordable, accessible education to Californians, SDSU has grown with San Diego’s fortunes, swelling its ranks in good times and shrinking in bad. It had an enroll-ment of 25,000 when it achieved university status and was named California State University, San Diego (later renamed San Diego State University) in 1971. By then, San Diego’s other two young universities were just establishing their intellectual identities.

SDSU can easily claim many thousand alumni involved in local business, politics, media and all aspects of the community. About two-thirds of San Diego County’s teachers have been degreed or certified at SDSU. Laid-off defense workers learn to adapt to San Diego’s changing employment scene at the university foundation’s Defense Conversion Center. SDSU’s College of Business Administration is the ninth-largest business program in the United States.

The only California State University to be ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a doctoral university, SDSU leads the state system in doctoral degree programs (10 to date) and grant and contract research. The university grew so large in the 1980s that it spawned the California State University San Marcos in north San Diego County. And its campus in Imperial County to the east provides access to higher education in a remote region.

“It’s intimately interwoven with the fabric of San Diego County,” says Thomas B. Day, who served as SDSU’s president for 18 years. In July, Day turned over the office to Stephen B. Weber from the State University of New York system. In talking about his presidency, Day speaks with particular pride of the Graduate School of Public Health, along with the undergrad health programs.

“Almost all the healthcare-delivery system here comes from San Diego State. We provide all the worker bees who are out helping the community. The whole area embodied in the College of Health and Human Services is now quite vital, in all senses, to the people of San Diego.” In fact, Day says, the entire university “is an important component for the vigor and growth of San Diego County.”

Like SDSU, the University of San Diego acquired university status long after it graduated its first students. The university was formed in 1972 with the merger of two small Catholic colleges, one for men and one for women. The two schools had operated side by side above Mission Bay on a mesa called Alcalá Park since the 1950s, along with a school of law and other postgraduate programs.

Enrollment doubled to more than 5,000 students in the 1970s and ’80s under the leadership of USD President Author E. Hughes, who added schools of business administration, nursing and education to the university’s roster. Today, though USD is a private, Catholic institute with only 6,000 students, it is ranked as one of the top 100 schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“It’s unusual that a university so young would be nationally recognized,” says USD’s new president, Alice Hayes, a veteran among her local peers with a year in her position. A biologist by profession, Hayes is the first to admit she has garnered an enviable position. As a private institution, USD has the ability to offer highly personalized and individualized education to a select student population, nearly half of whom are from San Diego. The university’s board of directors reads like a who’s who of local leaders, and lawyers, educators, nurses and business administrators educated at USD permeate the region’s professional core.

“Everybody wants to stay here,” Hayes says with a laugh. “It’s our biggest career-planning and placement challenge.”

SAN DIEGO’S WARM and welcoming climate has been a boon for UCSD as well. The university was officially established in 1960, but its origins lie in the Marine Biological Association, first formed in 1903. That La Jolla marine center, now called the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, joined the University of California statewide system in 1912. By 1950 the institute’s scientists knew they needed a larger, scientific-oriented university nearby to enhance their abilities.

UCSD’s very existence is largely credited to the late Roger Revelle, an oceanographer who served in the U.S Navy in San Diego during World War II. Upon returning to Scripps as a civilian, Revelle began envisioning a science and engineering institution for La Jolla, “sort of a publicly supported Cal Tech,” as he put it. He began campaigning to the University of California Board of Regents, based in San Francisco, almost immediately.

La Jolla’s Institute of Technology and Engineering was established as a graduate school in 1958, and was incorporated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography into the University of California at San Diego in 1960. Unlike SDSU, or other more traditional schools, UCSD began building from the top down, awarding master’s and doctoral degrees before ever establishing an undergraduate program.

The curriculum first focused on the basic sciences—physics, chemistry and biology—and then expanded in like-minded regions. The university’s School of Medicine opened in 1964, no doubt spurred into existence by the emergence of the Salk Institute in 1961 and the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation, which was founded in 1924 and expanded considerably in the 1960s and ’70s. In fewer than four decades, UCSD has become one of the top 10 science-and-research universities in the country, according to a survey by the National Research Council.

UCSD’s graduates and faculty feed into local high-tech industries, research institutes and hospitals, forming the backbone of San Diego’s status as a high-tech city. The current faculty includes five Nobel laureates in medicine, chemistry and economics; in its short history the university has had 12 Nobel laureates among its faculty. UCSD students and graduates are participants in the world-class research taking place at the Salk Institute and the Scripps Research Institute, all within an easy bike ride from the campus. (SDSU, meanwhile, educates the students who often go on to make up the technical-level workforce of the local biotech industry. Specifically, SDSU is the major center of recombinant DNA research for the entire California State University system.)

Roger Revelle never served as a chancellor of UCSD, though its college of science and technology is named after him. The first chancellor was Herbert York, a physicist from the U.S. Department of Defense. Another physicist, Robert C. Dynes, became UCSD’s sixth chancellor on July 1.

Dynes was an undergraduate student in his native Ontario, Canada, when UCSD first opened. “Where I grew up, a university was one of these traditional stone-building things that had centuries of tradition,” he says, recalling early rumors of this burgeoning scientific giant in a place he had to find on a map. “You can’t just create a university. But we did, and it’s a damn fine one, too.”

THE THREE UNIVERSITIES face similar economic, demographic and political challenges in this era of change. But the biggest adjustment comes with the changing face of higher education itself and with the needs of the local community. San Diegans have a push-pull relationship with their educational institutes, with both sides molding the region’s evolution.

The growth of high-tech industries is certainly one positive example of the possible partnerships between the city and the universities. SDSU’s International Center for Communications is working closely with Mayor Susan Golding and San Diego leaders to create a local information policy and a vision for the region’s future.

With the vision in place, local governments are now moving forward to place information kiosks throughout the county, giving all citizens electronic access to government agencies. According to center director Eger, the kiosks are one visible example of the university’s role as a catalyst, bringing business and government together in a knowledge-based economy.

“We are a center for collaboration,” Eger says. “We help create a vision based on solid research and then bring it to the next step.” Eger and his peers at all three universities are placing greater and greater emphasis on San Diego’s international standing.

“I think it’s the only thing that’s going to keep the city and county from being the sleepy outposts they’ve been for the past 150 years,” says Day, who speaks proudly of the many transborder and international programs at SDSU. State now offers an international business major, while its Center for Latin American Studies, Department of Economics and Center for International Business Education and Research are leaders in transborder issues. In 1994, SDSU instituted the first United States–Mexico dual business-degree program, offering students the opportunity to study and earn degrees in both countries.

UCSD stands at the policy-making forefront with its Institute of the Americas and Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, while USD operates a Transborder Institute.

Closer to home, the universities are helping San Diegans adapt to a changing marketplace. “The big move in all the different colleges is not only to train the traditional-age student but also to move into retraining, retooling and reeducation,” says Day, who cites SDSU’s Defense Conversion Center as a good example of higher education’s involvement in the larger community. When the local defense industry suffered extreme downsizing, SDSU’s foundation immediately started a program to retrain unemployed workers.

Like workers throughout the country, San Diegans find themselves taking college-level classes throughout their professional careers and on into retirement. Schools are adapting to changing demographics and a student body of post-college adults who aren’t just interested in accumulating more degrees. “That’s going to create a lot of interesting questions in universities,” says Day.

Mary Walshok, dean of UCSD’s Extension program, likes to talk about “knowledge without borders” and the role of education and research in community development. “There’s a whole new generation of colleges and universities who understand the need for lifelong learning,” says Walshok. “Education is a combination of early degrees, foundation degrees, certificates and credentials, second and third degrees. There is a constant movement between the world of practice and the world of formal education.”

As a relatively new university, UCSD has used its Extension program imaginatively, both forecasting and meeting the needs for specialized training. Its Connect program is integral in the development of local high-tech industries; its San Diego Dialogue provides an overview of the economic possibilities in the border region; its certificate programs give workers the skills they need to adapt to new careers.

“We’re in the business of helping people apply new techniques, new knowledge to their work, their organizations, in their communities,” says Walshok. “Each of the education institutions is connected to the community in ways that are vital.”
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