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Northrop University to Drop Degree Programs, Cut Faculty : Education: Financial trouble, low enrollment are cited. The school will focus on technical courses such as avionics and helicopter maintenance.

May 10, 1991|JEAN MERL | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

The board of trustees of struggling Northrop University has decided to scrap the half-century-old institution's degree programs and lay off about half of its 50-member faculty, President John Beljan said Thursday.

Beljan cited financial problems as the reason for the action.

The decision, made May 1 and relayed to students and staff Wednesday, represents "a radical change for our institution. We've been a full-bore university for most of our 50 years," Beljan said.

Students now enrolled in degree programs, which include aeronautical and electrical engineering, computer science and business, will be helped in transferring to other schools after the term ends in June, and a summer session will be offered for those who have nearly completed their degrees, Beljan said. The school will concentrate on its technical courses, including power plant mechanics, helicopter maintenance and avionics, he added.

"It was a very difficult decision," Beljan said. "My immediate goals are to be sure we protect the institute, to be sure it is stabilized and on its new course. . . . Perhaps in the future it could re-emerge as a full-service university."

He cited financial difficulties and a desire to protect the programs that have been the private school's hallmark since it was founded in 1942 as a technical aviation school affiliated with the Northrop aerospace firm. Spread over several sites near Los Angeles International Airport, Northrop University became independent in 1953 and added law and business to its engineering and technology programs, leading to certificates or to associate, bachelor's or master's degrees.

But in 1989 the university was hit with allegations of financial and ethical improprieties that threatened its accreditation. The Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, the agency that monitors California colleges, accused Northrop of ethical violations involving the recruitment of foreign students, credits and bookkeeping.

The university's president of 17 years, B. J. Shell, abruptly retired once the controversy broke and Beljan, widely credited with helping Cal State Long Beach through a financial crisis, was hired.

Beljan's administration saved the school's accreditation by addressing many of the accrediting agency's concerns. The agency also recommended that Northrop officials improve its education program and financial stability.

Officials embarked on a program to consolidate the campus, but financing to tide the school over until its surplus properties could be sold fell through recently, Beljan said.

Because tuition is the major source of operating revenues, the drop in enrollment--from 1,800 when the accreditation problems surfaced to 1,200 now--further aggravated the school's problems.

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