Students stumble back into fall with a crash

Valerie Serrano, a second-year student at Santa Monica College, is on the road by 7:30 a.m. to be dropped off at college by 8:30 that morning. Despite her expectations, she nears the campus only to find herself stuck in traffic about four blocks away.

"I expected there to be traffic the first day, but I didn't expect to be stuck in traffic for 20 minutes without even moving an inch," Serrano says, who leaves the car and decides it's better, and faster, to get to school by foot if she wants to make it to class on time.

            As Serrano walks into her classroom, she notices an excessive amount of students all hoping to "crash" the class. "It was hectic, more than half of the class was trying to crash," Serrano says. 

            August 30, marked the first day of classes for the Fall semester at Santa Monica College, but for many students, like Serrano, it also marked the first day of crowded classrooms, long lines and chaos.

            Martha Quiñones, a first year student at SMC, was able to enroll into all her classes, but not everyone was as lucky. "Some of my friends were trying to crash some classes with me. Some, [who are] even in their second year, couldn't get in," Quiñones said.

According to Quiñones, with rising tuition costs at CAL State and UC colleges, SMC was the place to go. She believes that with SMC being affordable for many students, it makes sense that in this current economy many of them choose community colleges for their further education, all the while saving money.

"Some of my friends rushed here [to SMC] as a last resort," Quinones said, keen to stress that some of her friends weren't able to enroll in some classes.

            According to Jeff Shimizu, vice president of academic affairs at SMC, as of the second day of the fall semester, there were 31,904 students enrolled, with a decrease of 1,448 students in comparison to Fall 2009. He added that the number of classes offered has decreased by 2.3 percent since fall 2009.

            Students suffering from these cuts include Cynthia Johnson and Adrian Martinez. Johnson, a UC Davis student, is at SMC this semester after being dismissed from the UC campus as the result of not passing an English class.

According to Johnson, she will be able to return to Davis once she completes the English class at SMC. "I have nine English classes that I'm going to try to crash, even a weekend class. Hopefully I get lucky," Johnson said.

            Martinez, a second year student at SMC majoring in graphic design/advertising, was able to enroll into one class. He has tried to "crash" three classes, successfully enrolling in two.

"Some teachers make you write your name down and then they do a lottery. If you're lucky, you'll get in," Martinez said, elaborating on how he managed to get add codes. He is currently enrolled in three classes, despite the fact that he couldn't add an advertising class, which could potentially adversely affect his hopes of soon graduating.

            While students seem to be the ultimate target of the current enrollment situation, professors too are feeling the strain. Laura Campbell, an English professor at SMC, said, "I've never seen it this bad. I was shocked when I would walk onto the quad and see so many students." 

Campbell believes that with so many students trying to "crash," professors are put in a difficult situation when it comes to giving out add codes. Campbell lets crashing students who arrive early and on time participate in a lottery. All others are then left with the only option of finding another class.

            Simon Balm, an Astronomy and Chemistry professor at SMC, said, "If you compare SMC to other colleges, we're actually not doing so bad. Colleges like West LA have actually cut some semesters like winter or summer sessions. Although there is a cut in classes, we always run semesters."

            According to Balm, add codes are limited with the safety of the students in mind. A crowded room could potentially be hazardous if a fire or an earthquake were to occur. As for Balm's adding policy, he usually waits until the second week of term before he adds new students - in case some decide to drop. According to Balm, this gives students a better opportunity of getting into the class.

             For many students, the hunt for a class has become similar to the lottery. If they are not lucky enough to get into a class, they must press their luck elsewhere in hopes of winning that lucky number: the add code.