Brooks Institute consolidates at Ventura campus
Two-year plan will bring local student population to more than 500
By Michael Sullivan 07/18/2013
Photos by: Russ McConnell
For the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree or higher in the county, there are two primary players — Cal State University, Channel Islands, in Camarillo; and Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Though the city of Ventura has one of the campuses for Brooks Institute, an accredited photography college, the school’s primary professional-photography program had been based in Santa Barbara since its inception in 1945. Brooks Institute officials, however, announced recently that it was time for a change: Brooks Institute will consolidate its campuses to the Ventura site over the next two years.
“It is something we have been reviewing and researching for quite a few years,” said Susan Kirkman, president of Brooks Institute. “Because of the changes in the industry, pro photography, graphic design, film and visual journalism students need to have a skill set that hits all of those. Cross-disciplinary is very hard to do, but everybody can take advantage of all the resources.”
Starting in September, new professional-photography students who would otherwise have been in Santa Barbara, plus all other new students, will begin classes in Ventura, a total of around 180 students. This will drive up the student population with those already in attendance. The programs had been in two cities, a 31-mile commute between the campuses — with professional photography in Santa Barbara and graphic design, film and visual journalism in Ventura. Consolidation isn’t the only goal, Kirkman said. Via the consolidation, Brooks will offer students a more thorough cross-disciplinary education. Beyond bachelor’s degrees, the vision for Brooks Institute is also to provide students with the option of furthering their educations with master’s degrees that incorporate a variety of communication and visual media arts; there is currently one master’s degree program for fine arts in photography.
Brooks Institute currently has around 500 students, divided evenly between the two cities. Kirkman would like the school’s population to grow to around 1,500, but she said she is careful to keep growth at a healthy pace, unlike the situation when the school was purchased in 1999. Then the school swelled to 2,300 students and wasn’t necessarily prepared for such exponential growth. In 2005, the federal government put a spotlight on for-profit colleges, including Brooks Institute, and found some discrepancies in the promises that were made about job placement and the reality of where students landed. Since then, lessons have been learned and improvements have been made, and current job placements are on par with other similar schools with 55 percent to 85 percent of students placed, depending on the program, according to Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
Kirkman, who has been the president of Brooks for the last three years, since her transition from interim president, wants the school to be completely focused on the needs of the students. Oftentimes, schools get caught up in bureaucracy and administration, but Kirkman said she and the faculty are focused.
“I wanted to take a long-term college that had somewhat stagnated for a variety of reasons and polish that up,” she said. “I saw a diamond in the rough and wanted to get it where I needed it to be — a totally student-centered college. The faculty and administration make sure students are getting to where they need to be.
“Change is difficult for a lot of people,” she continued. “If you don’t have a process and good leadership, it’s going to be difficult to get where they need to be. One thing I saw was commitment to the students. The faculty was committed to students.”
Karen Castillo Farfán, a visual journalism graduate from Brooks and former photo-journalist for the VCReporter, has gone on to work for Santa Barbara’s Mission and State and for NPR and has done some film projects for Ventura County. Regarding her experience as a student at Brooks, her only complaint would be the travel time between the two schools to take various courses.
“I did take a few classes, and commuting was a pain in the butt,” she said. “I would have taken more if consolidated.”
Farfán said that she believes the consolidation is an important move for students.
“I think it will benefit all students,” she said. At the campus in Ventura, “we all benefited and learned from each other, to make better projects. Pro photo would benefit from the same opportunity.”
The students won’t be the only people to benefit from the consolidation. Ventura City Manager Mark Watkins said the city would see only good things from the move.
“It is great seeing creative individuals spend a lot of time here, [adding to the identity] as Art City, that really furthers that,” he said. “It’s really nice to see some investment in the facilities in that side of town. I think, in talking to Susan [Kirkman] and considering the age of their students — a little older, mature, serious students to the community doing video, visual art, recording — we are happy to have them here. We talked to Brooks about really being a part of the business community here, and the students living here. They will find their way in all the different fabrics of our community.”
Brooks Institute will hold an open house on Saturday, July 20, at our Ventura Campus at 5301 North Ventura Ave. Interested parties can meet the faculty and attend presentations on film, graphic design, and visual journalism. The program begins at 9:45 a.m. To RSVP, please call (888) 904-1777.