Sunday, March 11, 2007

Katharine Muller Begs for Money for AET

On the Santa Monica College Academy of Entertainment and Technology website, Dean of External Programs Katharine Muller begs for money and donations. "We are always looking for donations of equipment and software. An individual or company can also support us with a financial contribution." But this isn't the first time Katharine Muller has thrown up the online plea. As far back as April 1, 2003, Muller provided a sample cover letter addressed to the "Dear friends of the Academy of Entertainment & Technology." In that letter, she wrote in relevant part the following:

"The college received an ominous warning in the past week that a vital funding source for our programs, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act (VTEA) funding, may be eliminated from the 2004 Federal Budget. I am asking for your support in the form of letters sent on your letterhead to the mailing list, also attached in electronic form. There are two attachments, one with a draft of the letter and another with the mailing labels. You may forward to other interested parties if you wish."

The referenced
mailing labels listed forty congressmen and senators, including Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. In the sample cover letter, Dean Muller states that "this is a threat to all interested in the future of California entertainment and technology businesses and students, present and future." She additionally requested "any brainstorms on ways we could improve."

Katharine Muller Will Work for Food Parody
Dean Katharine Muller Will Work for Food for Uncle Sam
(Note: Parody Photo, Not to Be Taken Seriously.)

Other supporting documents include a draft advocacy letter, dated November 25, 2002, which Muller urges interested parties to edit and personalize. A yellow highlighted paragraph, intended to be edited, states the following:

"I personally am an active participant of the Entertainment Technology advisory board at Santa Monica College, one of the country’s premier community colleges, and can attest to the commitment of the college to meeting industry needs, the involvement of industry in supporting the programs, and the effectiveness of such programs in producing well trained employees. However, college commitment and industry support alone cannot support all vital vocational and technical training programs. Other funds such as annual VTEA allocations are critical to maintaining a level of training necessary to meet industry needs and keeping our economy strong."

A quick glance at AET's pathetic enrollment figures, financial problems, declining industry support, lack of internship and job placements, and questionable status of its vocational certificates paints a rather bleak picture contrary to this highlighted paragraph. As far back as January 31, 2001, the Los Angeles Times ran a short article, quoting a graduate of SMC's AET vocational program, stating that this hot trend of new media was already over. I quote the article as follows:

California community colleges report a significant increase in the number of courses dealing with “new media,” namely courses in Web site design and Web animation. Educators say the courses are essential to matching the needs of the new economy, and participating students agree that the courses are a key step toward finding jobs, often quite lucrative ones. However, some educators question this emphasis on new media, especially considering the current shakeout occurring in the dotcom sector. In fact, some graduates of the courses contend that the new curriculum is already out-of-date. “To be quite honest, it's about over, as far as a hot trend goes,” says Michael Eggert, who graduated from Santa Monica College's Academy of Entertainment Technology and became director of Web production for Wirebreak Entertainment.

Officials at the colleges offering the courses acknowledge that few students actually complete the entire curriculum. Many are only filling out their tech education with desired skills, and others turn in-school internships into full-time jobs.

Three years after AET opened its doors in 1998, it was already in sharp decline. Another three years later and Dean Muller is begging for much needed funding. Another three years later, in 2007, AET has lost most of its industry support, faculty, students, courses, vocational certificates, and funding. According to that November 2002 draft letter:

I have been informed that the Administration is considering eliminating funding that helps community colleges fulfill their mission to provide occupational programs by not reauthorizing funding under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act (VTEA) in the 2004 budget. The recent failed vote (49-50; Clinton amendment) in the U.S. Senate to restore Perkins funding to the 2004 budget shows how critical your vote is on this issue and that its fate requires bi-partisan support.

Was this an April Fools joke on the part of Dean Katharine Muller or a harsh pill that too few were willing to swallow? The official Whitehouse website confirms that the Federal Perkins Loans were "ineffective" and "not performing." The analysis of the Perkins Loans states:

The Perkins Loan program is redundant and duplicative, given the broad availability of need-based, subsidized, relatively low-interest loans through the two larger student loan programs (Federal Family Education Loans and Ford Direct Student Loans). These other programs provide nearly $80 billion in new annual loan volume, while Perkins Loans provide only $1 billion.

The statutory program funding allocation formula does not accurately reflect changes in the population of needy students. The current formula allocates aid largely on the basis of past institutional award levels, benefiting the schools that have participated in the program the longest.

The Whitehouse's action plan to improve the program was to simply eliminate it and redirect the funding to the Pell Grant student aid program, which apparently was a better way to spend tax dollars. What does this "ineffective rating" truly mean? According to the Whitehouse, it is the worst possible rating one can receive.

Programs receiving this rating are not using your tax dollars effectively. Ineffective programs have been unable to achieve results due to a lack of clarity regarding the program’s purpose or goals, poor management, or some other significant weakness. A rating of Results Not Demonstrated (RND) indicates that a program has not been able to develop acceptable performance goals or collect data to determine whether it is performing.

Santa Monica College has done everything in its power for the last two years to stonewall production of vital public records under the California Public Records Act. One can now understand why, given the fact that even the Whitehouse cannot receive answers to its questions about why our tax dollars are being wasted. The noble new media wave has washed out. Rather than figure out a way to keep the AET program not only afloat, but to effectively serve its student body, Dean Muller simply wants the recruit people to urge our politicians to thrown more money her way.

The Tech-Prep Education State Grants, according to the Whitehouse website, are also "not performing", with "results not demonstrated." Here's the analysis:

Evaluations show the program does not provide any advantage in terms of program outcomes for students: high school completion, postsecondary enrollment, and academic achievement. For example, the 2004 National Assessment of Vocational Education reported that Tech-Prep and non Tech-Prep students pursue college at comparable rates.

Program activities are redundant with allowable activities under the existing Vocational Education State Grant program. The law allows Vocational Education grantees to establish programs that supports two years of secondary education transitioning into two years of postsecondary education.

The validity and reliability of national level program performance data are limited. The program statute gives States the flexibility to define performance measures resulting in States using varying performance measures that do not share a common standard for validity and reliability and cannot be aggregated.

Again, the Whitehouse's solution is to work with Congress to terminate this program. The Vocational Education State Grants are also "ineffective" and "not performing." According to the Whitehouse's webpage:

Evaluations show the program does not provide advantages in terms of academic achievement. The National Assessment of Vocational Education reported that students in vocational education programs did not perform better in reading, math, and science achievement between grades 8-12 than students who were in the general education programs.

Annual performance data show that many States are not making adequate progress in achieving positive student outcomes. 15 States did not meet their performance targets for academic achievement at the secondary level; 17 States did not meet their targets for high school completion for school year 2003-04.

The validity and reliability of national-level program performance data are limited. The program statute gives States the flexibility to define performance measures, so States use varying performance measures that do not share a common standard for validity and reliability and do not allow for aggregation.

Again, Congress is urged to eliminate this program. Missing for all of Muller's suggested letters to these various senators and congressmen is hard facts, data, and statistics proving that the AET program works and that our tax dollars are being used wisely. Absent this, any letter alleging this funding serves a purpose is nothing more than hot air. SMC's refusal to disclose public records confirms that AET has something to hide. Why has Santa Monica College so adamantly defied the statutory law and ignored our requests for production under the CPRA?

As AET students, do we not have the right to see the enrollment figures, the current job placement and internship records, and the reason all those vocational certificates never were approved by the California Community College Chancellors Office? Or, alternatively, are we all simply to go along on blind faith, trusting people like Katharine Muller to make it all work flawlessly for us? Personally, I chose fiscal accountability over blind faith. Apparently, given the mass exodus of faculty, students, industry partners, and funding, I am not the only one to feel this way. Perhaps it is time for Dean Katharine Muller to step down from her ivory tower of power and let someone who is perhaps more qualified have a shot at saving this failing program.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2007: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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