Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Santa Monica College's Financial Death Spiral

While Santa Monica College's administration paints a false and rosy picture of enrollment and fiscal health to the unsuspecting public, the Santa Monica College Faculty Association has the moral courage to tell us all the harsh truth of the college's fiscal and enrollment recovery problems. In an article written by SMCFA President Lantz Simpson, entitled, "Playing Dice with the Future of SMC," Mr. Simpson alleges that SMC is on a continuing and downward "death spiral." By failing to recover students, cutting classes and programs, and laying off faculty, the college may lose $2.2 million!

This was back in 2003 and his predictions seem to have come true. Mr. Simpson writes that "the administration at SMC has been playing dice with the future of the college, taking a huge gamble that could result in the college going into a death spiral of contraction, unable to stop. In fact, it may have already begun." The FAB has further alleged that SMC has hidden $3 million in its current budget. The question on my mind is where did this money go?

Fast forward to September 2005 and Mr. Simpson has written another editorial entitled "College Rolls Snake Eyes." Mr. Simpson offers these words of truth:

The college has failed to return its enrollment back to the level of 2003. This means the college has permanently contracted with a $2 million net loss in state revenue for next year. This also means that the college teeters on the edge of a death spiral of funding cuts, lay offs, and further enrollment drops. Only a massive transfusion of more equalization money or a brand new funding system can save SMC now.

SMC's administration has tried everything to get its students to return back to its educational pasture. It blared from its ivory towers at Pico Palace of its greatness to a deaf student audience. It turned to strategies that panned out to be mere gimmicks that no one was buying. Through its "Field of Dreams" strategy, it funneled bond money into the new Bundy campus and library to the tune of $45 million. This did nothing to attract potential students as is evident in its less than stellar enrollment numbers for 2003. Additionally, the Bundy campus was plagued with access and environmental concerns, costing more money from expensive outside consultants who were brought in to fix these problems.

SMC then launched its student success and retention campaign, which also failed. Then the administration thought that all it needed was a Welcome Center to draw in the students. Despite all this warm and fuzzy hospitality, the Welcome Center remains haunting devoid of students. Not being able to solve its more pressing problems, SMC launched into the free parking campaign, again with little success. As recently as this summer, I received unsolicited emails from SMC that if I registered early, I could potentially win free parking. Somehow, a solid education with quality faculty seems much more appealing.

SMC has seen loss of classes, loss of vocational programs, loss of donations, loss of faculty, and lost educational opportunities. Mr. Simpson asks: "When are those responsible for gambling away the college's future going to be held accountable?" Over a year after he wrote these words, we are all still waiting for an answer.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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