Today we are acting at a time when Santa Monica College is confronted with the greatest budget crisis ever to face higher education in California.
As California’s public post-secondary educational capacity contracts, so do the life prospects of many young Californians. A tragic number of students are currently being turned away from community colleges and CSU campuses.
The past four years of this unprecedented state budget crisis have had devastating effects on college students in California. Since 2008-09, state general funding for Californiaʼs community colleges has decreased by 23 percent, according to the Community College League of California.
At Santa Monica College, we are turning away thousands of students. Budget cuts have forced SMC to trim class offerings by 1,100 course sections since 2008. Statewide, estimates are that community colleges have turned away 300,000 students because of budget cuts.
Beyond this, we face a further 5 percent cut in State funding in 2012-13 if the proposed statewide initiatives to raise taxes in November of this year fail.
During the past several years, this Board has discussed on many occasions what the college of the future could look like. We have explored a full range of topics, from international studies to methods of delivery to affiliated programs. We have also discussed frankly what the college of the future will be in an era of inadequate state funding. That discussion led to the February 2012 Board action to expand the options for SMC students to complete their studies.
We have proposed to make available to our students approximately 50 extra classes sections this summer over and above the 700 class sections that we would normally offer. Students would pay for these 50 classes at SMC’s actual cost.
For students who would otherwise take these classes at CSU or private or for-profit universities, this would result in a cost savings for them. For other students, the opportunity to use scholarships monies and financial aid monies would provide them a way to advance their college goals without waiting for limited classroom seats.
The program would be offered under the provisions of the Education Code pursuant to a contract education agreement between the College and a California nonprofit corporation. All courses would supplement the College’s regular offering, and revenue from the program would be used to increase access to the College’s regular educational programs and services.
As the Board is aware, the use of contract education for credit is well established. However, SMC’s proposal, given SMC’s high profile, has drawn much attention. Supporters believe it offers a way forward for many students who are unable to get the classes they need; critics fear that it will lead to systemic changes in community college funding.
California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott gave voice to this conversation earlier this week in speaking to the Los Angeles Times. He has requested that Santa Monica College consider postponing implementation of the proposed contract arrangement.
As Superintendent/President, I am recommending to the Board of Trustees postponing the implementation of the College’s self-funded contract education pilot program. A resolution to that effect is provided.
I must warn that this postponement in no way addresses the state funding crisis and the lack of seats for our students to progress in a timely way. I would offer the following observations:
• The societal need for higher education is greater than the public funding available. As we have learned recently from the U.S. Census release of data, in 1940 only 5% of the U.S. population had Bachelor’s degrees. In 2010, 28% had Bachelor’s degrees. The demand will only increase.
• The alternatives to lower division coursework and career training at community colleges are more expensive everywhere else. SMC can deliver coursework at an actual cost of $180 per credit unit; today that credit unit costs as much as $295 at the California State Universities (tuition only, not counting state support) and $600 at for-profit institutions.
• California community colleges have invested many local taxpayer dollars in new facilities as a result of local district bond elections over the past ten years. Putting these facilities into full use benefits our students; leaving these facilities idle does not.
•The default alternative to creating more seats is rationing, and with it, fewer jobs. This cannot be the preferred alternative.
• The 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education is more than 50 years old and we now have severe shortages of seats at all three systems of higher education. We cannot wait for total collapse before we experiment with alternative models and pilot programs, such as our own.
We can make use of the time created by the postponement to have all members of the District Planning and Advisory Council go back to their constituent groups and thoroughly discuss the proposed program so that the District Planning and Advisory Council can forward a formal recommendation to me to indicate either its support or opposition.
Lastly, I would urge that we conduct this dialogue with all our partners in higher education in a spirit of urgency and resolve. The current choices for students are untenable.