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Enrollment Surge at St. Mary's Has Upside - and Downside - For Moraga

While most colleges are scrambling to keep faculty and curriculum, the Gaels of Moraga's St. Mary's College are doing just fine, thank you, with the largest influx of college freshmen ever about to arrive in town.

While most colleges and universities struggle in the face of deep budget cuts and faculty layoffs, little St. Mary's College of Moraga is re-hiring lecturers laid off at the height of the recession in order to accommodate 680 incoming freshman – the largest single admission of new students in school history.

School officials are busy modifying their dorms to make room for the new arrivals, as a KGO camera crew saw when they rolled onto the campus Wednesday, and some of the first arrivals are making their way around town, getting the lay of the land.

Town officials have expressed hope that the new arrivals will mean more trade for local businesses in need of an economic shot in the arm, but some local merchants have said privately that even with the added number of mouths and wallets in town the spending habits of college students are so specific that they're not likely to see any benefit.

One local business owner said she hadn't even heard about the new arrivals.

"I, frankly, have not even heard about this," Roos Pal, owner of Terzettos Cuisine in Moraga, said Thursday.  "We have tried to work with the college in the past, but I've heard nothing about more students coming and haven't planned anything, yet."

And at nearby Bianca's Deli, which in the course of its workday derives 60 percent of its business from St. Mary's students, worker Helen Krenn said she also had not heard about the incoming tide. She said she was sure she'd be making a lot of their favorite sandwiches – the legendary "grilled chicken and jack."

"I guess we will be very busy," Helen said. "It will make Marcy and Bill (Shelden, the owners) happy."

A worker at the 7-Eleven on Moraga Road shrugged off the news of more Gaels than ever in Moraga and environs.

"If it's true, I guess we'll be selling a whole lot more beer," he said.

Possible downsides to the arrival of more kids in town could mean an increased demand on police services, an even tougher job market for local youths hoping to pick up a minimum wage job at a time when those are in short supply, and increases in traffic and noise for the surrounding neighborhoods.

Although faced with a steady number of thefts at the college last year - mostly of high-priced computer and telephonic equipment - Moraga Police Chief Robert Priebe said it will be "business as usual" when classes resume.

"We are always willing to work with SMC at orientation or anything similar," the chief added.

The college, however, has steadfastly maintained that it will continue to be "a good neighbor" and do whatever it can to accommodate both its students and the community in which they live and learn.

Lourdes July 22, 2010 at 09:51 PM
I laughed when I saw the liquor store comment. I guess things haven't changed so much since I was in college after all.
Dan Perkins July 23, 2010 at 01:32 PM
'Possible downsides...' nothing like a little negative conjecture early in the morning. Good for St Marys and good for Moraga; now if we can get some more businesses downtown for these guys to spend their money in we'll be getting somewhere.
Zoe Claire July 23, 2010 at 02:09 PM
Conjecture? Hardly. The negatives are known and real - traffic, noise and increased demand on police services. You don't have to look hard to find examples of those impacts. But I do welcome them as they are good people for the most part. I just don't see them buying much more than those chicken sandwiches and the odd six pack of brewskies. I couldn't afford anything more than that, if that, when I was their age. And at $35,000 a year in tuition, I'd be living pretty lean!!
bryan July 24, 2010 at 12:57 AM
Good school but going to be kinda cramped, no?? And 81 percent of those coming are receiving financial assistance?? Is that for real??
Dean Mayer July 24, 2010 at 02:51 PM
Sorry, but the journalist in me is compelled to note what's missing from this story. How can we comment one way or the other, or even care, if there is no context for the 680 frosh enrollment number? Is that up from 677 last year? Or 300? How does 680 compare with the highest SMC freshman enrollment of the past 10 years? Local blog news is great, but please make sure it contains enough info to inform.
Dan Perkins July 24, 2010 at 03:11 PM
It's 20% more Dean, so another 116 or so students.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) July 24, 2010 at 03:53 PM
We're trying, Dean... we're trying!
Danielle July 24, 2010 at 05:40 PM
Please please please kids... just be safe!!
Dan Perkins July 24, 2010 at 05:45 PM
Some folks are more trying than others... ;-)
bryan July 24, 2010 at 06:37 PM
dp in there with the wordplay!
Nicholas July 31, 2010 at 05:41 AM
Sports bar/Sports Bar/Sports Bar and finally, Sports Bar!!!

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