Touro College offers West Coast alternative

By the time Touro College opened in Los Angeles in 2005, five of Esther Lowy’s eight children had already left for college on the East Coast — and stayed there.

Today, her two youngest attend Touro College Los Angeles.

As the first dean of the school, which is a branch of the accredited Touro College New York, Lowy knows how important offering a college option for local Orthodox kids is to the future of the community.

“Unless we keep our children on the West Coast, we’ll lose them,” Lowy said. Already 220 students have attended classes, with close to 120 students enrolled last academic year. Classes meet at Temple Beth El on Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood.

“I’m glad that I did not have to fly to the East Coast to get a quality education in a Jewish environment,” said student Ilana Adatto, a psychology major concentrating in speech therapy.

For her, Cal State Northridge, Santa Monica College or UCLA wouldn’t have provided what she was looking for in a college education.

“I chose Touro College over other secular colleges in Los Angeles, because I wanted to stay in a Jewish environment and be able to receive my degree from a respectable accredited university,” said Adatto, who is from North Hollywood.

At Touro, students are not exposed to literature or films they would consider immodest or indecent, or to a campus life that challenges Orthodox values. Men and women have separate classes at Touro, and the school follows a Jewish calendar. The college has its own rabbi and students are required to take three credits of Judaic studies each semester.

“You don’t have to be Orthodox or Jewish to come to Touro College. But most non-Jews don’t want to do the three credits of Judaic Studies,” Lowy said.

The college offers something else not found in large universities — an intimate environment and a personalized educational setting.

“I have very good relationships with many of my teachers and feel comfortable seeking their help after class and outside school, when necessary,” Adatto said.

Dr. Michael Hamlin, a psychology professor at Touro, takes a case-based approach to learning that engages students in discussion and involves interaction among the students.

“People need to be active and involved in their learning,” Hamlin said.

Lowy has a personal relationship with the students as well. Five weeks into the semester she meets with them to discuss their progress and goals.

The school tailors course offerings to the needs of the students, Lowy said. “We will give a course for as few as three students,” Lowy said. “If, however, there are not three students interested in a class, we will give it independently.”

Currently students have a choice of two majors, business and psychology. There are four concentrations within the business major — accounting, finance, management and marketing — and three within the psychology major — speech pathology, counseling and education. Lowy said the school is exploring adding more majors and graduate degrees, including master’s degrees in business and education.

Touro College New York opened in 1971 with 35 students and has expanded to more than 23,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students on more than 29 campuses throughout the world, including Florida, Nevada, Moscow, Berlin, Rome and France. In September 2010, the second Jewish-sponsored Medical School in the country will open in New Jersey.

“Touro students have preferential admissions to the many Touro graduate and professional schools,” Lowy said.

Affiliation with the New York school helped Touro College Los Angeles become accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges before it even had students. However, Touro College Los Angeles is not the only college specifically targeted for the Orthodox population here; Maalot Los Angeles, a women’s college and branch of the Maalot Zaidner Institute in Jerusalem, opened in Los Angeles in 2000 to cater to the Orthodox population. Maalot is currently Middle States Accredited and is hoping to get WASC accreditation in the near future.

Tuition at Touro Los Angeles is $14,000, but Lowy said the school offers financial aid, including the need-based Dean’s Scholarship and an $8,000 merit-based scholarship for students who get above a 1,200 on the SATs.

While Touro College New York helped Touro Los Angeles get its start, Lowy said Touro Los Angeles also looks to the local community for support.