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Higher education, hospitality industries expected to grow in 2011

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San Diego is home to more than 175,000 students enrolled in higher education, and 2011 is likely to be a busy year for the region’s colleges and universities.

For public four-year institutions including San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego, enrollments in 2011 are largely dependent on what happens with the state budget, due to be announced in January.

Ethan Singer, associate vice president of academic affairs at SDSU, said “Right now, we have heard very little from Sacramento ... because of the transition of the governor’s office, we are kind of operating in a vacuum.”

Singer did note that if the budget remains similar to this year’s funding levels, including nearly $200 million in restored funding, the campus would likely see an increase of more than 1,900 students and some faculty hiring.

It is likely that classes will remain crowded. At present, all majors at SDSU are impacted, which means that student must meet certain GPA and coursework requirements before enrolling. At UCSD, many majors in the sciences and engineering are impacted as well, which can present challenges for students hoping to enroll in these popular majors.

Enrollment growth is predicted among private colleges serving the burgeoning working adult population as well.

“Strong, very strong” is how Eileen Heveron, provost of National University, describes her outlook for 2011.

“The current economy really drives home the point that a college degree is valuable ... it helps you get a job and keep a job,” Heveron said.

The new GI Bill, offering expanded education benefits, is also likely to increase enrollments in local colleges. Outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has identified returning veterans as a “priority” for institutions of higher education, and the 4-year-old Troops to College initiative has encouraged many area campuses to invest resources to serve military students. Expanded Veterans Centers and programs like the University of San Diego’s National Science Foundation-funded project to recruit veterans into engineering are representative of San Diego higher education’s interest in engaging military students.

Colleges and universities across San Diego are striving to develop programs that are aligned with the demands of the work force. National University faculty members are “active in reviewing new degree offerings,” and Singer noted that a new degree in Health Communications would be available at San Diego State University in the fall.

Similarly, two-year institutions are focusing on programs that lead to jobs. During the past two years, both San Diego City College and Mesa College have used bond money to build facilities that provide new homes for growing health care and technology programs.

Hospitality

America’s Finest City’s has suffered the effects of the recession for more than two years, but industry leaders think 2011 may shape up to be just fine indeed.

The San Diego Convention Center has 120 events booked for 2011, including 72 citywide events that will draw an estimated 600,000 out-of-town guests who need lodging, food and transportation. According to Steve Johnson, vice president of public affairs for the San Diego Convention Center, that translates into more than $1.4 billion in economic impact for San Diego and is a notable increase from 2010. Medical conventions -- part of the health care sector that has been one of the few industries to survive the recession relatively unscathed -- continues to be a core part of the Convention Center’s business.

“We have 14 medical conventions scheduled including our largest, the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, which will bring 32,000 people to the city,” Johnson said.

Mark Dibella, general manager of the Hotel Solamar, said he has “very guarded optimism, finally” about how his hotel, and the local industry as a whole, will fare in 2011.

“The last couple of years have been tough, because we have had a perfect storm of a weak economy and a huge increase in the number of hotel rooms downtown,” Dibella said.

Business travel will continue to be at the core of most Convention Center and downtown hotel activity. Jim Unger, executive director of Hornblower Cruises, said that the corporate meetings and events market suffered the most during the recession, but resurgence in the final months of 2010 has made him optimistic that “corporate business will improve in 2011.”

Hospitality industry executives hope that a stronger economic outlook and rising consumer confidence will bolster visitors’ comfort in spending. Unger said the average dollar amount spent per guest is beginning to increase on cruises. Similarly, Dibella indicated that while business travelers are still being forced to be value-conscious by their companies, he anticipates higher average spending per guest at the hotel.


Bouris is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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