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San Diego: College Town

A snapshot of student life — it’s a big picture


THE VISION of a college student sitting in a library, reading a book under the glow of a desk lamp, is as vintage today as a Norman Rockwell painting. Young scholars are more likely to be found in the campus coffee shop, stationed in front of a laptop while texting messages on a cell phone.

Advances in technology are among the many trends impacting the landscape of higher education.

“There is a lot more access to information, and some of the best and most current research in the world is accessed through technology,” says Point Loma Nazarene University president Bob Brower. “You can link outside resource people into the classroom, so you can have experts available virtually anywhere in the world. The variety of technology that supports learning helps make teaching better.”

Other issues facing higher-education students and faculty in the 21st century include international study, federal funding, energy conservation and linking education to the job market. In short, you can’t take a snapshot of student life without considering the bigger, more global picture.

Associated Students president James Poet, a senior at San Diego State University, says his fellow students are focused on going green and studying abroad. He’s excited about the new Enhance, Evolve and Innovate initiative, a six-point campus referendum passed last year that allocated more than $1 million for special projects.

“There is about $300,000 made available for study-abroad scholarships,” says Poet. “The students voted to tax themselves to provide these programs for themselves and fellow students.

“One of our other great initiatives this past term is Green Love, a movement toward sustainability. We decided to dedicate $250,000 for sustainable upgrades to our facilities,” he says. “And after 12 years, we just renewed our lease with the city for Mission Bay Aquatic Center. We’ll put solar panels over the entire facility and be able to produce 100 percent of the electricity.”

San Diego’s universities are challenged with preparing students for personal, regional and global achievement during a time when state budget cuts are causing the California State University system, the largest system of higher education in the nation, to consider capping enrollment for the first time in its history. The University of California also may have to limit admissions, especially to its most popular campuses. Jobs are scarce, and federal funding is compromised.

Yet top-ranking programs in research, international business, medicine and science have made our region’s colleges some of the most sought-after learning institutions in the United States, claiming unprecedented growth in recent years. California State University trustees have approved San Diego State University’s plans to expand by some 10,000 students through 2025. Cal State San Marcos has opened an off-campus center in Temecula that offers an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program in addition to career technical education courses. The University of California, San Diego, known for attracting more than $700 million in research awards annually, has experienced major growth, with planned enrollment expected to reach 28,365 by 2010. Last year, Point Loma Nazarene University reported the largest undergraduate enrollment in its history. And the Donald P. Shiley Center for Science and Technology at the University of San Diego is expected to serve 50,000 students in the next 50 years.

Despite the challenges, Point Loma’s Brower is optimistic, especially when he recalls his two favorite days of the school year. One is student orientation, when fresh men are filled with dreams and expectations for the future. “Commencement, for me, is the other best day,” he says. “That’s a moment when you really see how much students have developed and changed, and how far they have come in the past four years. Those two days remind you why we do this work. There are bright hopes and possibilities on both ends, but at commencement you see what you have been able to contribute to the process. You see and hear what students are already doing and what they plan to do.”

Here is our picture of San Diego’s college scene. Note: Public-school students pay registration fees regardless of residency status; nonresidents of California also pay tuition in addition to those expenses. According to the College Board, the average tuition at four-year public universities nationwide for the 2008-09 academic year is $6,585; in California, the average is $5,346.


SDSU life by the campanile5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, 619-594-6561
Founded: 1897
Serves: 30,460 undergraduates
Registration and in-state student fees: $3,754 per year
Motto: Minds that move the world

The largest university in the region, and one of the largest and oldest in California, SDSU was first known as San Diego Normal School, and its curriculum was intended to train elementary school teachers in “normal” subjects. Today, SDSU offers doctoral degrees in 16 academic and research disciplines.

The Imperial Valley campus is an SDSU branch with locations in Calexico and Brawley. The faculty there is multinational in classroom orientation and background. Interactive television provides students in Calexico the opportunity to participate in various classes broadcast live from the campus in San Diego.

“I’m especially proud of the way we are internationalizing our campus,” says provost Nancy Marlin. “I like seeing growth from an international perspective because that’s the world our students will be living and working in. No matter how wonderful our programs are in terms of diversity, you can’t substitute for the experience of being abroad.”


Geisel Library, UCSD9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, 858-534-2230
Founded: 1960
Serves: 22,770 undergraduates; estimated total enrollment: 28,500
In-state tuition: $8,906 per year
Motto: Let there be light

Home to the San Diego Supercomputer Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UCSD Medical Center, UCSD is one of 10 campuses in the University of California system. The San Diego Daily Transcript listed UCSD as the fourth-largest employer in the region last year. The coeducational research institution located in La Jolla consists of six undergraduate colleges, each offering personalized student opportunities and unique educational philosophies.

“UC San Diego has been built on a century of achievements at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography,” says chancellor Marye Anne Fox, who taught organic chemistry for 23 years. “So when it first started, as an independent institution, there was a strong emphasis on science, engineering and medicine. The new expansion of the Price Center will add all sorts of things for students to do at night. There’s a performance lounge, several restaurants, a nightclub, a movie theater, and there is even a hair salon.”


USD San Diego5998 Alcalá Park, San Diego, 619-260-4600
Founded: 1949
Serves: 5,121 undergraduates; total enrollment: 7,600
Basic tuition: $34,272 per year
Motto: Emitte Spiritum Tuum (Send Forth Thy Spirit)

A secular board of trustees oversees operations at this Roman Catholic institution overlooking Mission Bay. More than 60 degrees are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. USD is divided into six schools and colleges, including the School of Law and the new Kroc School of Peace Studies.

Provost and vice president Julie Sullivan sees a greater sense of accountability in higher education in administration and faculty, a feeling that they need to demonstrate student learning outcomes and preparedness in graduates. “There is a much greater expectation in terms of the sophistication and comprehensiveness of student services, whether that involves technology, academic counseling or career services,” she says. “There is more focus on experiential learning—of extending the learning to outside the classroom but relating the two. That’s why you see more emphasis on international studies.”


333 South Twin Oaks Valley Road, San Marcos, 760-750-4000
Founded: 1989
Serves: 8,124 undergraduates; estimated total
enrollment: 9,140
Tuition: $3,011 per year

Located in the rolling hills of North County, CSUSM is one of the fastest-growing colleges in the CSU system. Enrollment is projected to surpass 12,000 by next year. The university, considered a commuter campus, includes the College of Arts & Sciences, Business Administration, Education and the newly established School of Nursing at the Palomar Pomerado Health Education Center.

“What we realize is several of our future building projects need to be a student union and athletic field,” says Karen Haynes, president. “While we have built athletic teams here, we can’t yet play softball or baseball on campus, and obviously those are venues for students coming together. Our next couple of years will focus on instruction projects that really help support and create more student life and student activities.”


3900 Lomaland Drive, San Diego, 619-849-2200
Founded: 1902 in Los Angeles, moved to Pasadena and then relocated to San Diego in 1973
Serves: 2,346 undergraduates; total enrollment: 3,480
Tuition and fees: approximately $26,000 per year
Motto: Teach, Shape, Send

The 93-acre campus of this private, nonprofit Christian university is known for its spectacular ocean views. In addition to the undergraduate campus, there are graduate programs at regional centers in Arcadia, Bakersfield, the Inland Empire and Mission Valley. A campaign to build a new science complex is under way.

Like USD, PLNU is open to students of all faiths, but it also offers courses and mission programs that address spiritual as well as academic growth. Blake Nelson, the Associated Student Body director of spiritual life, is a senior majoring in literature with a passion for film. He says his video work for Invisible Children and World Vision gave him the skills to pair “images of the poor with a Switchfoot soundtrack.” But studying abroad in Rwanda and Uganda helped him understand poverty in a broader perspective, and the trip impacted his faith in a way that helps him relate to the spiritual needs of students.

“I wanted to get a grasp on the historical, political and social contexts of these—and other—situations, so I could better translate them into stories on screen and on paper,” Nelson says. “I left the trip a more knowledgeable student and a better storyteller, but with little hope. After immersing myself in the potential for humanity to tear itself apart, and learning how my own country has ignored, funded or denied other genocides, I was left with this: If our hope in Christ isn’t real, then we have nothing.”

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