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Santa Monica College Hammers Out Plan to Save Classes



By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

March 13, 2012 -- As the State pulls funding for higher education, Santa Monica College may have found a solution some are finding controversial.

Despite student protests, SMC's board of trustees last week approved an “open enrollment contract educational program” that would allow the school to continue offering classes during the winter and summer sessions, but at a higher cost.

The new program, which would establish a non-profit organization to teach classes in SMC facilities with SMC faculty during the winter and summer sessions, would charge a higher rate.

“We're one of the few community colleges who haven't cut winter courses,” said Bruce Smith, SMC's public information officer.

Over the past four years, SMC – along with other public higher education institutions across California – has lost 13 percent of its funding, Smith said.

“Higher education has been cut dramatically since 2008,” said Smith. “This year alone, SMC was cut $11 million.”

As a result, the college has lost more than 1,000 course sections, meaning more students are competing for space in a shrinking pool of courses, many of which they need to complete their coursework.

What's more, Smith said, this year, the college was facing a choice of having to finally get rid of its winter session or find an alternative solution.

Smith said the rate for the new program has yet to be worked out but that classes would cost just enough to pay teachers' salaries and facility costs and no more.

As more and more students are squeezed out of classes by State budget cuts, students who aren't able to get into the courses during regular sessions will be able to pay a higher rate to take the same classes during the summer or winter, Smith said.

Some students are dissatisfied, however, arguing that the move is an attempt to privatize public education.

But Smith said that options are few and that SMC officials have already begun exploring ways to offer scholarships for students who need to participate in the contract educational program.

“We can't just sit and do nothing,” he said.

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