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CLU 'Stretched to Capacity'

Undergraduates number about 2,000 at the Thousand Oaks university, where signs of expansion are visible everywhere.

September 02, 2004|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Cal Lutheran University, a small liberal arts college in Thousand Oaks, began its fall semester Wednesday, welcoming the largest freshman class in its history and kicking a program of renewal and expansion into high gear.

Nearly 2,000 undergraduates -- including 445 first-year students, up 18% over last September -- are enrolled as the university enters its 45th year. And signs of change are everywhere. Bulldozers have begun grading new sports fields and a dormitory is under construction.

That is part of a building program that has already produced a new $6-million education and technology building and expects to construct a $45-million sports and fitness complex during the next decade.

"We are absolutely stretched to capacity, which is exciting," said Luther S. Luedtke, university president.

Joining the large freshman class are 151 transfer students, some of whom could not get slots at University of California or California State University campuses because of cutbacks in the public university system, officials said.

The 225-acre campus also serves about 1,000 graduate students. But the university is still smaller than many high schools.

By 2018, the university's growth plan calls for 2,200 daytime undergraduate students and about 3,500 to 4,000 overall, including night and graduate students. But enrollment is well ahead of its timetable.

"This increase in students has helped us to increase our campus diversity, geographically as well as racially, socially and economically," Luedtke said. Students come from as far away as Austria, Ghana, Norway, Singapore, Bangladesh and Tanzania.

They are drawn by a friendly campus environment, small class sizes and the sunny Southern California climate. Academic specialties include education and business training.

Seventeen-year-old Amanda Totten of Atascadero followed her sister, a 2002 graduate, to Cal Lutheran.

"This campus is great. I know where everything is. It's so small, it's easy to find things," she said. "I'm really happy and comfortable here."

To accommodate the extra freshmen, Luedtke said, the university had to convert a vacant dining room, an arts laboratory and administrative offices to classrooms.

More than 100 dormitory suites, each designed for four students, have had to squeeze in a fifth this fall, crowding that should ease when a residence hall with 180 bedrooms is completed next year.

Dorm student Jessica Blackshear, 18, of Santa Paula said she didn't mind the arrangement. She said she selected Cal Lutheran for its strong accounting program.

"I love Southern California: the weather, the people, the way of life," she said. "So the idea of going to a better business school elsewhere in the country wouldn't have been my ideal choice."

The dorm construction is only part of the building underway at the independent university, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

More than 2,000 donors have contributed upward of $70 million in the last four years to upgrade the university and plan its future.

Heavy machinery is turning dirt near Moorpark and Olsen roads, where the school's sports facilities are undergoing an update.

The $18-million first phase calls for a sports and fitness center that will include a gym and soccer stadium, an aquatic center and a baseball field named after Hall of Fame manager George "Sparky" Anderson, a Thousand Oaks resident.

In anticipation, Cal Lutheran last fall added an intercollegiate aquatics program with men's and women's swimming, diving and water polo. For now, the athletes train at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village.

Plans for the 80-acre north campus also include 15 tennis courts, a 3,000-seat football stadium and a 300-seat women's softball field. Also planned are a small, infield-only baseball practice area; a 400-meter track, including an area for field events, and six practice fields for various intramural sports.

The university's $80-million fundraising program, called "Now Is the Time," would also set aside $6 million to support scholarships and endow chairs and professorships.

Already constructed is the education and technology building. The School of Education was awarded national accreditation this year, and is one of five at private universities in California to be so recognized.

U.S. News & World Report regularly ranks Cal Lutheran among the top 20 institutions in the West in its regional universities category.

The annual tuition cost is nearly $22,000, plus $7,600 for the two-thirds of students who live on campus. But a financial aid package can offset about $18,000, officials said.

According to Cody Hartley, Cal Lutheran associate director of admissions, the average SAT score of incoming freshmen is 1,100 and the typical grade-point average is 3.5, although about one-quarter of the new students have a GPA of 3.75 or higher.

On Wednesday, students began their school year by attending a convocation in the packed 600-seat Samuelson Chapel. Officials welcomed them back and introduced 10 recently hired faculty members.

Later, in an honors humanities class for freshmen, professors Melvyn Haberman and Walter Stewart tried to warm up their 37 students to philosophy, poetry and fiction.

The class reading list includes works by Plato, Aristotle, Mark Twain, Jane Austen and Henrik Ibsen.

"We like you to challenge us in class. Not everything we say is correct," Haberman said.

"I wouldn't say that," Stewart replied with a smile.

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