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By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

EL CAJON, California, April 8—I learned once again that do-it-yourself can be a recipe for disaster, especially when there are professionals paid by others just to guide your way.

I accompanied two of my journalism students at Grossmont College, Russ Lindquist and Earnest Carter, to an interview on Friday with Olivia Flores, who works at the campus “Transfer Center” when she’s not serving as a counselor at Kearny High School.

With the state budget calling for sharp cuts in educational spending, public colleges and universities are being forced to decrease the number of students who will be admitted for Fall 2011.   What should a student completing community college do?

One approach would be to send out lots of applications and transcripts and hope one will find acceptance somewhere. But this would be a waste of time, effort and money.  A wiser approach would be to go to the Transfer Center and speak with Flores or possibly with the director Mary Rider.  San Diego State University is not the only campus in the California State College and University system, Flores says.  While the demand for admissions to San Diego State University was greater than the number of slots available even before the budget crisis, other colleges up and down the state have had openings, Flores said.

Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State Northridge are examples, Flores said.

And have you ever heard of the Western Undergraduate Exchange?  I hadn’t, and I bet most students at Grossmont College hadn’t either.  But this is a compact among the publicly funded colleges of a number of Western States to charge in-state tuition rates to students from the other states.   In other words, if a California student decides to go to a public university in Arizona or Wyoming, or elsewhere in the west, he can pay the same tuition as students who live in that state.  It’s a bargain for Californians, where college tuitions are higher than just about every other Western State, Flores said.

There’s no charge to use the services of the on-campus Transfer Center.  All Grossmont students need do is walk to the “modular village” where the Transfer Center’s bungalow is located. Inside, one will find numerous brochures as well as computers with pre-programmed links to educational institutions around the country.

What I learned on campus, I also have learned as the proud husband of a travel agent who specializes in cruises.  Nancy, a consultant with America’s Vacation Center—also known as Avoya Travel—receives her commissions from whichever cruise line whose tickets she sells , but she is beholden to none of them.  Her first loyalty is to her client.  As a result, travelers are better off using her services than they are booking cruises on their own.  Why should this be so? 

First, Nancy will try to match the cruise line to your needs, rather than try to persuade you to settle for a ship, itinerary, or price range that you don’t want.   Travel agents understand every aspect of a cruise, and can answer your questions about what to expect every step of the journey.  They can give you good advice embarkation and disembarkation, about shore excursions, meal seatings, on board celebrations, ship routines, and cruise line tipping customs.

Additionally, travel agencies – particularly those like Avoya with enough reach to have numerous affinity groups traveling under their auspices – often can find less expensive fares than consumers can find online.   Second, there is continuity with a travel agent.  Once you become Nancy’s client, she takes care of you continuously.   You won’t be transferred each time you call the agency to someone new, to someone who doesn’t know your needs. More importantly, travel agents are your advocates.  If the cruise line’s prices go down, travel agents will keep you informed so you can take advantage of the reduction in price.  Cruise lines often won’t do this for you.

If you’re entitled to a shipboard credit, Nancy will make certain that you get it.  If you’re entitled to various amenities – such as a bottle of wine delivered to your cabin, or hand-dipped chocolate strawberries, she’ll call the cruise line to make sure you get them.  If there’s a chance of getting you a free upgrade to a more expensive cabin, Nancy will seek it for you. A travel agent like Nancy will go to bat for you whenever the opportunity presents itself – before, during, and, after your cruise.

Is Nancy a saint?  Well, maybe, in my eyes.  But what’s important for the consumer is that she’s an honest, client-oriented businesswoman.  She knows the better the service that she provides you, the more likely it is that you will come back to her the next time you take a cruise.   It’s in your interest—and hers—that your vacation be everything you hoped it would be.

What is true about college transfer specialists and travel agents also applies to real estate agents who will do their best to help you find the home you have always wanted.  Whenever possible, whatever the field, choose a knowledgeable professional to be your advocate.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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