Budget Cuts Continue Despite Development

With the economic crisis still charging ahead at full speed, colleges are once again facing fiscal hardships with California projecting further budget cuts for schools in the coming year.

To counter this economic storm, on Tuesday, May 4 Santa Monica College's board of trustees discussed the effect of cost-decreasing initiatives benefiting SMC's quality of education and student resources.

Among the many discussed topics, of particular concern was a state-projected budget cut for educational funding in the coming year. While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not sign a state budget that doesn't include additional funding for education, SMC is preparing for at least a three percent cut from last year in state funding

According to SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang, California is predicting cuts from state funding ranging from three to five percent, leaving the board faced with the task of once again generating strategies to decrease SMC's operational costs.

California's unemployment rate has reached a staggering 12.6 percent, which has created a surge in student enrollment at SMC, according to Dr. Tsang. With a 28 percent increase in enrollment from last spring, this spike has only compounded SMC's fiscal challenges.

As a proposed strategy to alleviate these pressing concerns, the board discussed implementing a cost-cutting method for class schedules, like switching from reminder letters to smaller postcards to remind students to enroll.

The board discussed integrating student schedules into the newly established Corsair Connect as a way to decrease cost on paper notifications. According to Teresita Rodriguez, vice president of enrollment development at SMC, Corsair Connect has consolidated online student resources, such as eCompanion and course enrollment, to provide an easier and more efficient way for students to utilize online systems.

Applications are up 28 percent from this time last year, said Rodriguez.

SMC's enrollment has reached capacity; therefore more students do not necessarily equal more state funding.

Trustee Rob Rader expressed his concern with encouraging enrollment when classes and funding are scarce.

"During this time period when we have funding issues, maybe we shouldn't be doing the postcards and ticklers," he said. "It's hurting us two ways. One: in out-of-pocket expenses and two: encouraging students that we're not going to get funding for."

Rader admitted his dislike for asking these kinds of difficult questions. He asked if the five percent cut of summer classes that has been implemented would be enough to continue to sustain SMC's financial path.

"You're right, this is not a situation we can sustain over a long period of time," said Dr. Tsang. "We will be able to enroll more students than we are being paid for by the state for another year."

"We can't cut off applications," said Rodriguez. "As an open institution, it's kind of a come one, come all."

One solution the trustees are looking towards is a shift in emphasis from "through put," in which schools focus on a student's journey through school, to "output," in which focus is turned towards transfer and degree completion.

Students in California are graduating with an average of 30 more units than students in other states, according to Dr. Tsang. Students are taking more classes than they need, requiring more funding from both the state and the students themselves.

With the hard-pressed issues the board is facing, Dr. Tsang showed confidence in the abilities of SMC as a school by expressed appreciation and optimism in tackling these difficult problems.

"The entire college has done a great job adhering to the adopted budget," he said. "We've been able to save money while still providing quality education."