Along the highways and major roads — and on radio and TV airwaves — private for-profit colleges and universities have been building a presence in the East Valley.
Among the driving forces for the schools, most of which offer two- and four-year degrees, are specialized classes, many in technical fields. Also high on the list of advantages is flexible schedules.
That’s what students want, especially ones who either want to move up in their current field or change careers, school representatives say.
The schools range from Valley-based Apollo Group's University of Phoenix and Western International University, which has campuses in Chandler, Scottsdale, Phoenix and Fort Huachuca, to ITT Technical Institute, a nationwide group of schools that has its headquarters in Indiana. ITT moved its Valley campus to a new building in Tempe this summer, and enrolls about 400 students.
Several school-related stocks are doing well so far this year. Among them, ITT Educational Services, the parent of ITT Technical Institute, closed Thursday at $44.44, up a whopping 85 percent since January. The ITT name was formerly affiliated with such diverse interests as the Sheraton hotel group, the New York Rangers and Wonderbread, but now the company’s focus is schools. Closer to home, shares of Valley-based Apollo Group are up 39 percent so far this year.
Small or medium-sized private institutions provide more options to students who may feel lost at large schools such as Arizona State University, whose main campus has nearly 50,000 students.
The schools are not cheaper alternatives. ITT Techincal Institute charges $347 a credit hour. University of Phoenix ranges to as mauch as $440 an hour. By contrast, an in-state student at any of three state's three universities can go an enitre year for $3,593.
At Collins College in Tempe, administrators emphasize programs in fields that are already in high demand.
"Our moral report card is we put people in jobs," said Rusty Walker, vice president of education and provost at Collins. Located at 1140 and 1150 S. Priest Drive, Collins College is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since its founding as a design school by Al Collins in 1978, Collins College has expanded. The college was purchased by Delaware-based Career Education Corporation in 1994 and now enrolls 1,800 students.
"We're much more than the mom and pop school we were back in 1994," said Walker, who has a doctorate in art education and worked as a professional artist in the San Francisco area before teaching and working at Collins.
A BIG DAY
Earlier this month, Alex Ding-Bong Poon was late to his graduation ceremony from ITT Technical Institute of Tempe. But ITT’s faculty — and everyone present — applauded him.
Poon, who earned an Associate of Applied Science in computer drafting and design, had a good reason to be tardy. Prior to the graduation, he became a U.S. citizen at the federal court house in Phoenix.
"I had to be there at 8," said Poon, a native of Hong Kong. "I didn't get here until 10:45," he said, smiling and sighing. The graduation ceremony started at 10 a.m.
Poon, 28, of Scottsdale, said he is happy to be done with school and showed it as he danced off the stage with his diploma. He worked as a computer designer at a Phoenix company while attending ITT and now plans to work there full time. Poon attended Arizona State University after graduating from Horizon High School, but stopped.
"The class size is too big and you don't get much attention," he said.
That's not the case at ITT, he said, as he was congratulated by yet another faculty member. Earlier this year, ITT Technical Institute relocated from Phoenix to Tempe, and summer classes marked the opening of the new campus at 5005 S. Wendler Drive, just south of Interstate 10.
Director Charles Wilson said the Tempe location gives the school room to grow.
THE RIGHT FIT
Richelle Hardy is a long way from her hometown in Tuba City, which is located in the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. But her mother, Freida Hardy, and cousins, Darren and Vicky Williams, didn't mind the nearly 369 mile drive — one way — and got up at 5 a.m. to see her graduate from ITT.
Hardy, who lives in Mesa, earned an Associate of Applied Science in computer and electronics engineering technolog. y She first attended Mesa Community College, but found ITT was a better fit. "I like the faculty and the small classes," she said, smiling broadly. "The instructors have time to answer questions."
Hardy is looking for a job in digital electronics and plans to work in the Valley.
Laura Victoria Downs was one of four graduates who received a Bachelor of Applied Science in electronics engineering technology. A 34-year-old mother of two, Downs said her path to ITT was far from straight.
"It’s been up and down with kids and family and health problems," she said. "Everything that could get in the way, did get in the way."
But Downs said ITT’s faculty encouraged and supported her. “They believed in me.”
The crowd at the ceremony hooted when her name was called.
She had high hopes of landing a job at Intel, but amid the tough high-tech market, she said she simply wants a job at "a good company."
"Do not draw every hair." Those were the instructions written on a white board in the classroom of an animation class, next to an exuberant, freehand sketch of a lion, at Collins College on a recent Wednesday.
Administrators at Collins are proud to have grown beyond graphic design to offer a curriculum that also includes programming in Java and other software languages used in the high-tech industry. Program content is based on meetings with businesses and feedback from an advisory board.
Students typically attend school for five hours a day. The faculty is proud of the students and display their work on the schools’ walls.
Alumni have gone on to work at such top-notch companies as George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. Signed posters of “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace” decorate the school’s theater, where students view the video demos they and their classmates create. The signatures on the posters are of Collins’ graduates, not Star Wars creator Lucas.
Jon Lemond, formerly of Fox Studios and with movie work that includes “Anastasia” and “Titan AE,” teaches Collins College's Introduction to Drawing and Design. He has done so for four years since relocating from New York with some of his Fox colleagues.
In a nearby classroom on a recent afternoon, students learned to build computer-animated characters. They start with bone and muscle before adding clothing and equipment so the characters can interact with their environment in a realistic manner, said Ron Gregg, who directs the animation program.
Walker, Collins' provost, explains: Students are learning skills that they will be able to apply in the workplace.
"I think that's what we do best," he said.