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Whittier College and the Arts : Joint Program With L.A. Art Institute Aims to Bolster Enrollment, Save Money

June 14, 1987|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — In an era of tight money and intense competition for new students, Whittier College and a Los Angeles art institute have launched a program aimed at bolstering each other's enrollments without breaking the bank.

Beginning this fall, the two colleges will offer a joint art major, leading to dual degrees, that educators say will take advantage of the respective strengths of the two small, private schools.

Students will spend three years at Whittier getting a general liberal arts education, then transfer to the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in downtown Los Angeles for two years of concentrated art studies.

Because there have been fewer high school graduates to draw from in recent years, officials at the two colleges contend that the agreement has added a novel--and attractive--weapon to their recruiting arsenal.

Sought Ways to Expand

It also appears to satisfy both colleges' need to control spending.

In recent years, Whittier has sought ways to expand its art course offerings to keep pace with student demands for a more diversified department.

And at Otis Parsons, the West Coast campus of the New York-based Parsons School of Design, administrators say they lose a number of students each year who want to pursue art careers but believe the curriculum there is too narrowly focused.

"This makes excellent use of limited resources of two small institutions," said Robert B. Marks, vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty at Whittier. "Everyone benefits. . . . We get more students majoring in art, which enriches our campus. . . . Parsons gets students with a broader view of the world."

This is one of the first joint academic ventures between two private California colleges or universities that involves a non-technical field of study. In the past, small liberal arts colleges, including Whittier, have had similar arrangements for students who want to major in engineering or architecture. But Hans Giesecke, assistant vice president of the 123-member Assn. of Independent California Colleges and Universities, said the Whittier-Parsons program may be the first involving a non-technical discipline.

'Join Hands to Save Money'

"This may be a sign that even in the area of liberal arts," Giesecke said, "small colleges are choosing to join hands to save money rather than embark on costly expansion programs."

In Whittier's case, that is right on the money.

At least three major building projects are in the works at the college--an $8 million performing arts center, new student housing and an expansion of the library.

That leaves little for any on-campus changes or additions to the college's art department, Whittier spokesman Donald Stewart said. "It's just not on the boards, and probably won't be for some time," he said. Thus, the Whittier-Parsons project fills the void, Stewart said, because it allows the college, in a sense, "to pick up personnel and facilities without spending much money."

The unsettled enrollment picture is another reason Whittier officials say they are shy about expanding academic departments on the 1,050-student campus. Until last year, enrollment at the Quaker college had gradually slumped from a high of 2,000 in 1970, due in large part, officials said, to similar student declines on the high school level.

As a result, Whittier stepped up its recruitment of minorities, launching aggressive campaigns to woo both Latinos and blacks to the mostly white campus. The Whittier-Parsons venture is an extension of that recruiting drive.

Six entering freshmen have been accepted for the program in the fall, and plans are to have as many as 25 in the program at the end of three years.

"Those are kids that probably would have never considered Whittier, but because of the ties to Otis Parsons are now going to come here," Stewart said. "And that is a direct financial benefit to this college."

Professors' Brainchild

The cooperative effort was the brainchild of two Whittier art professors, who pitched the concept as a way to enlarge the department.

Art has always been a part of the liberal arts menu offered on the century-old campus at the base of the Puente Hills. But the focus has been fine arts, and in recent years the clamor among students, according to campus officials, has been for commercial art training--fashion designing, photography, interior architecture and layout and advertising.

Professors Paula Radisich and Susan Meyers recognized the demand and last fall hit on the idea of marrying Whittier to a Los Angeles design and art school.

The pair found a willing partner in Roger Workman at Otis Parsons. Dean of the art institute since the summer of 1985, Workman said he had been looking to link up with another college to halt the flight of students. When Radisich, chairman of the Whittier art department, and Meyers sketched the idea for Workman, he bought it.

Pilot Program

Earlier this year, faculty members at the two colleges approved the concept, and the pilot program was launched.

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