LAFAYETTE -- State budget cuts harm private colleges at the same time they are hurting public schools, the president of Saint Mary's College told campus and community leaders Thursday.

More students than ever are applying to the Moraga campus, Brother Ronald Gallagher said, a sign that students are concerned about their inability to get admitted to -- and to get classes at -- University of California and California State University campuses. And more applicants need financial aid, he said, including state-sponsored Cal Grants that could be trimmed from the California budget.

"These are challenging times to run a college or university," Gallagher said in his state-of-the-college address at the Lafayette Veterans Memorial Building, noting that the Catholic school has cut its own budget as well. "It's been painful."

Gallagher made his pitch for state tax extensions, which have been pushed unsuccessfully by Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democrats, as a means of closing a $15 billion budget gap that could have disastrous effects on public colleges and universities. The state already has cut $1.4 billion from their budgets this year.

Saint Mary's, which has about 2,600 undergraduates, could expand that number by 400, Gallagher said, but it will remain a small school.

"We're reaching capacity in our enrollment," he said. "We're not going to double in size."

The president, a Saint Mary's alumnus who took office in 2005, also told attendees the school this week had submitted its official request to play host to a 2012 presidential debate. And he discussed the college's popular men's basketball team.


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When asked by an attendee whether he would be able to keep head coach Randy Bennett, who has been recruited by larger schools, Gallagher paused and looked at Athletic Director Mark Orr, who laughed and refused to say anything.

"The answer is we're working on this one very hard," Gallagher said. "He's a great asset to the campus."

Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Contact him at 510-208-6488. Follow him at Twitter.com/mattkrupnick.