Attention young Orthodox high school graduates: Planning to attend college this year on the East Coast? Why not do something really radical: Stay in Los Angeles?
That's the message currently going out to the local Orthodox community to encourage its high school graduates to attend Touro College Los Angeles, which will open its doors this fall. It's no secret that the Orthodox community has been searching for some time now to find a way to staunch the flow of its best and brightest to the East Coast.
"The way of our [Orthodox] world is that most of our students following high school feel they have to go to the East Coast to college," said Esther Lowy, the college's newly appointed dean. "And then they usually end up staying on the East Coast."
With the implementation of Touro L.A., Lowy -- who has had three of her eight children attend school at Touro New York -- said she hopes it will eventually put a halt to the mass exodus.
It has taken two years of planning, but Touro College Los Angeles, based on the Touro College New York model, received official accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges at the end of February.
Touro L.A. will provide young Orthodox men and women with a four-year college degree at a recognized, accredited institution, allowing them to pursue both secular and Judaic studies. Core secular courses will be provided leading to either a bachelor of science in business administration or a bachelor of arts in psychology and education.
Touro College began in 1970 in New York, when the current president, Dr. Bernard Lander, established an independent college focusing on Jewish core values, heritage and continuity. Today, Touro has 19,000 students at 29 campuses worldwide.
But will it work in Los Angeles?
Lowy believes so because Touro L.A. will mirror Touro N.Y., and the two programs will be interchangeable, allowing students to study at both colleges if they wish. She also believes Los Angeles' weather will be a huge boon for prospective students, many of whom, she said, have great difficulty adapting to winters on the East Coast.
The college has also secured rental housing in the heart of one of the city's Orthodox strongholds at Mogen David Synagogue on Pico Boulevard and Beverwil Drive. Mogen David is currently undergoing extensive renovations to upgrade its classrooms in time for the September opening, which aims to have approximately 50-60 students (30 men and 30 women who will be taught separately).
"I've had so many inquiries from prospective students," Lowy said. "Not just locally but also from the Midwest."
With a May 30 deadline for final applications, Lowy has been busy advertising in local papers, as well as in San Diego and as far away as Denver. She also visited women's seminaries in Jerusalem at the beginning of the year to talk to girls who will be returning to the United States to continue their studies. In addition, she's been speaking with principals of the various Orthodox high schools across Los Angeles.
"We've also been holding open house meetings, and we've been getting a great turnout," Lowy said. "People are saying they can't believe that there's finally going to be a college here for them to attend."
Lowy said she is confident that they may already have the 30 men they need to begin this year. A lot of that she said has to do with the huge response from the post-high school program at Beit Midrash Ner Aryeh in the Valley.
As far as the women are concerned, Lowy said she is targeting those who would normally attend Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University's women's program or Touro in New York, and even those who might otherwise attend UCLA, Santa Monica College or CSUN.
"I've had girls approach me and say they've chosen to go to Touro N.Y. because they have no options here," Lowy said. "But now they do."
Lowy also has another secret weapon that she believes will help keep the students in Los Angeles: Generous financial aid, which will be granted to students -- both needs-based and academic-based. Unlike government financial aid, which takes the parents' income and divides it by the number of students in college, Touro divides it by the number of students in the family.
"We understand that many Orthodox families have many children, and they have been paying tuition since nursery school," Lowy said. "And while our fees are only $12,000 per year -- very reasonable for a private college -- we understand that many of our families simply can't afford to pay that much."
Lowy concedes that it is difficult to get people to risk sending their children to a new school, yet she is confident that as an identical model to the New York school, that will allay many fears.
"The small classes will also allow us to provide individual attention and to tailor classes to the students' needs," she said.
She believes it's just a matter of time before Touro L.A. makes its mark on the local Orthodox population.
"I think [Touro L.A.] is going to take Los Angeles Orthodoxy to the next level," she said. "And it's going to provide us with a level of higher education that we haven't ever had here before."
For more information on Touro L.A., contact Esther Lowy at (310) 556-8100.
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