New campus for ORT Technical Institute in Los Angeles


28 January 2009 New campus for ORT Technical Institute in Los Angeles New campus for ORT Technical Institute in Los Angeles An exciting new chapter in the dynamic history of ORT’s college in Los Angeles is opening with the move of its branch campus to a large site in the city’s north. It is a coming of age for the campus, which opened in the northern suburb of Sherman Oaks 10 years ago as a small satellite operation of the main site in the centre of town and now has nearly as many students. The branch campus was founded principally to serve the needs of the Russian Jewish immigrant community which was settling in this more affordable area. But demographic, social and economic changes have prompted the college to move from Sherman Oaks to the district of Van Nuys. The Director of ORT Operations USA, Dr Ephraim Buhks, explains: ‘Over time we were having less and less students for ESL [English as a Second Language] training and more and more were coming for re-training. Particularly in today’s economic climate we’re focusing on providing services for the unemployed so we realised our location in Sherman Oaks didn’t provide the outreach we needed because the suburb had become more affluent.’ The lower middle class demographic of Van Nuys, which is just north of Sherman Oaks, will provide a new opportunity for ORT to expand its services for the unemployed and high school graduates as it shifts its focus away from immigrants, whose numbers have dwindled since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At 15,000 square feet, the new building is nearly twice the size of the old one and has been fully refurbished with state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, offices and equipment. And it is now officially recognised by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training as a college offering a high quality academic degree programme in Accounting (soon, it is hoped, to be joined by a degree in Business Administration) which means that students can apply for means tested grants. While the move has been self-funded, the college’s Director of Admissions, Fred Keivanfar, said the impressive new site should make it an attractive option for philanthropists seeking new social investments. ‘We hope it will bring us donors who could help us to expand the degree programme into the medical field and into the field of graphic art, as well as a new programme in nursing,’ Mr Keivanfar. In the meantime, the college continues to offer highly regarded vocational qualifications for those seeking careers as pharmacy technicians and medical assistants, as well as roles in medical office management, accounting, computer graphics and computer aided design and drafting (CADD). At a time of so much doom and gloom, the progress and development of ORT’s college in Los Angeles is an unqualified success. ‘In the last three years, enrolment has grown by 35 per cent,’ Mr Keivanfar said. ‘And our graduate career service enjoys a job placement rate averaging more than 90 per cent.’ The college’s Director, Joseph Neman, added: ‘In these tough times we strive to offer high quality programmes in careers that have futures. As a non-profit benefit organisation, we place the needs of our students first. Our success is measured by meeting or exceeding student, employer and community expectations.’ And in doing just that, the college is getting more and more referrals as word gets around about what it offers for its students, more and more of whom are not Jewish. ‘Being close to Van Nuys city hall, the new site will give us more exposure to local schools and the general community,’ Dr Buhks said. ‘ORT being a true international organisation welcomes students from all over the world so among our students are representatives of many countries.’ This is a practical as well as an idealistic position as the college is run as a not-for-profit educational business and relies on fee-paying students. It receives only a small proportion of its funding from ORT America. ‘That’s why it’s crucial for us to find opportunities to expand,’ Dr Buhks said. ‘Our programmes need to be low cost, high quality, relevant and modern because students shop around. So this is an exciting time: we’re moving to the right neighbourhood to expand, to have more students and so generate more revenue.’ While expanding services to the general community, at the college’s heart still lies a core commitment to helping Jews. ‘We work with local Jewish day schools to provide courses in computer aided design to students and we have a long-term partnership with the Bureau of Jewish Education through which Los Angeles ORT provides technology training to Jewish day school teachers,’ said Dr Buhks, adding that forging more partnerships with Jewish organisations and recruiting more Jewish students would be the aim of a new staff member to be hired thanks to a grant from the Hirsh Foundation. The Los Angeles college is one of three schools operating under the supervision of ORT Operations USA, the others are in New York and Chicago. In addition, ORT Operations USA oversees four ORT computer centres in Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland and Michigan and the David B. Hermelin ORT Resource Centre in Detroit. The main site of the Los Angeles college was established in Wilshire Boulevard in 1985 to train immigrants from the Soviet Union and Iran and moved to its current location, in the same street, in the 1990s.