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Summer windfall as colleges rent out space while students are on break

Anyone who thinks that college campuses are lonely places this time of year should visit UC Santa Cruz in the summer.

That sprawling and bucolic Northern California campus hosts scores of outside activities and organizations that rent space for meetings, classes, parties, sports games and music shows. There are contingents of cheerleaders trying to perfect their yells and leaps, a convention of mandolin players who perform in a joint concert, a school for young would-be rock guitarists, training sessions for nature educators and numerous sports camps, among other things.

While most of its regular students and faculty are on vacation, upward of 1,000 visitors a week are in UC Santa Cruz's dorms, lecture halls and cafeterias in the summer, according to school officials. All that brings in about $4.25 million in rentals and other revenue and, after expenses, nets the UC campus $1.3 million to help support dorm facilities the rest of the year, they said.

"Of course we want to provide enriching experiences for all our visitors, but my goal is to bring in revenue," said Sandi Vargas, UC Santa Cruz's assistant director of conference services, who helps coordinate summer rentals

All that activity is part of a trend across California and the nation for colleges and universities to seek summer-time income from otherwise underutilized facilities and to keep maintenance crews, cooks and other employees working year-round.

Kristen Soares, president of the Assn. of Independent California Colleges and Universities, said outside groups prefer to base their summer activities on college campuses because they have dorms, sports fields, meeting halls and outdoor spaces. And beyond the rental income, colleges like to raise their profiles by hosting visitors who might not know much about the schools, creating connections to youngsters who may later enroll.

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FOR THE RECORD

July 15, 12:51 p.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of Kristen Soares, president of the Assn. of Independent California Colleges and Universities, as Kristine.
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"It is exposing them to the campus community," Soares said.

A downside, colleges report, is that large gatherings of teenagers can lead to some discipline problems and vandalism. Colleges often require that the visiting groups impose strict supervision, including curfews, on youth activities.

Along with traditional summer school courses, many colleges run in-house summer programs for academically talented young people, sports camps and faculty and research retreats. For example, UC Santa Cruz in August will again help sponsor the week-long conference of scholars and fans of author Charles Dickens, focusing this year on his novel "Martin Chuzzlewit."

Outside groups can bring unusual flavor to a campus. This summer, the University of the Pacific in Stockton will be home once again to a local folk dance camp, along with one serving tennis players. A large national group of geneticists studying worms and parasites recently gathered at UCLA, and the Junior Statesmen gathering of young people on that Westwood campus will study the drought and the media in Southern California. Groups of photographers and young Catholics are coming to the University of San Diego. A retreat for vocalists and choir singers recently leased space on the Mount Saint Mary's University campus on Los Angeles' Westside.

Some summer activities are rarely seen on campus in fall or spring. For example, the cheerleaders at UC Santa Cruz might startle some observers at a school with a strong feminist ethos and no varsity football team. But Vargas said the cheerleaders are welcomed since they are "extremely athletic, extremely energetic and wholesome and they contribute greatly to our mission." Sometimes, however, other groups complain about the volume of the cheers.

Occidental College in Los Angeles is busy, too, with summer guests. Among them are 200 students who attend two- or three-week sessions of the New York-based School of Creative and Performing Arts. Teenagers from around the world attend classes and take field trips around Los Angeles to music and film studios, theaters and dance rehearsal halls.

The performing arts school, which simultaneously operates at colleges in New York City and Burlington, Vt., has rented space at Occidental for nine years because the campus is picturesque, secure and convenient to many attractions, according to Jennifer Gerber, the Los Angeles program's creative director. Using college campuses "creates an efficiency for us and gives a great opportunity for the students," she said.

The students, who pay more than $2,000 for a two-week session, also get a "pre-college experience" by living in dorms and sticking to a study schedule away from parents, said Gerber, who teaches film classes. "It prepares them mentally and emotionally for what college is going to be like," she said.

 

The performing arts school, several sports camps, a program for international students learning English and other summer rentals produce revenue totaling in the "high six figures," according to Amy Andrews Muñoz, Occidental's associate vice president for hospitality services, who declined to be more specific. "It's quite significant and keeps our employees working," she said.

An added bonus in Los Angeles: The campus is used more frequently in the summer as a shooting locale for movies and television. As a result, students see professional filmmaking outside their dorms. "They love it," said Gerber. Film crews are usually "really friendly to our students."

larry.gordon@latimes.com

Twitter: @larrygordonlat

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