Emeritus class cuts anger local residents

Up to 38 sections of health and fitness classes are in jeopardy of being cut from the spring 2011 Emeritus College class schedule, a move that has already upset many who view these classes as invaluable to the local community. At the most recent Santa Monica College Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 7, residents from Santa Monica and surrounding communities attended en mass in order to voice their opposition to the cuts.

The reduction of classes is the result of a recent memo released from the office of the Chancellor of Community College's in Sacramento that "prohibits state funding for non-credit health and fitness classes."

Four of the initial cuts were courses in tai chi, yoga, and general exercise, which have been saved only as a result of converting them into reduced fee-based community service courses. In doing so, it allows the college to keep those courses while staying within the guidelines set by the chancellor's office.

This is one of the long-term methods that SMC is using in an attempt to maintain some of the sections affected by the cutbacks: by placing them under other state funded categories. Running at an estimated $23.6 billion shortfall, the state government has scaled back its class funding as a cost saving measure.

"The legislature has been making the argument that these are things that people should be going to local gyms for," said Eric Oifer, head of the Academic Senate.

Another method that the administration is looking into involves working with the City of Santa Monica to acquire the funds necessary through programs like parks and recreation, in order to keep potential fees affordable.

As for those students unable to afford current fees through financial hardship, SMC foundation director JoAnn Ortiz has been working with the Herman family to set up the Zelda Herman memorial Scholarship and student relief fund. Interest from donations like the Herman scholarship will also go to supporting these programs.

SMC Vice President of Academic Affairs, Jeff Shimizu, explained that the college's current goals for solving this problem include, "compliance with the chancellor's office memo, maintaining student access while still responding to the current financial challenges we face as a college district."

The college is already operating at a $5 million deficit for 2010-2011, and has slowly been cutting course sections across the board. Even though the cut to Emeritus non-credit classes has caused great uproar within the local community, for-credit sections have also been dropped - 600 sessions overall at SMC.

Emeritus college is SMC's older adult education program and many of its 3,200 students use its classes as a means, among other things, of rehabilitation or much needed daily exercise.

Those in attendance included Chris Hartzell and his wife Regina, who suffered a stroke in 2002.

"I have improved so much since I started taking this class," said Regina Hartzell, referring to the ‘pathfinders' course, "What I've learned in this class, I can apply it to my everyday living."

Chris Hartzell added that, "a lot of these classes, I think, are worthwhile."

Like many community college classes throughout the state, the health classes at Emeritus are brimming with students, with some yoga classes accommodating close to 60, and many classes having long waiting lists. One key difference here is that students range from ages 55 and older, with many students over 100 years of age.

Bonnie Nakasuji, an occupational therapist and instructor at Emeritus, said that these classes not only promote physical health but also mental wellbeing.

"[Elderly] individuals that maintained active lives not only were happier, but they had lower blood pressure, less onset of diabetes, less heart disease etc…" said Nakasuji.

Nakasuji is one of the instructors of the Pathfinder's program: one that focuses on the health and wellbeing of individuals who are recovering from stroke and brain injuries. According to Nakasuji, ‘pathfinders' is one of the only community college classes of its kind in the state of California.

Olivia Regalado pointed out the social benefits of her joint maneuvers class. "Many feel alienated in life, and they have made friends in here," she said.

These classes are two of the four under curricular review, a lengthy process, but one that is necessary in order to maintain such classes. Associate Dean at Emeritus, Ron Furuyama, said that programs like the ones at Emeritus are preventative programs, which can save health care dollars. They also offer additional community service roles for volunteers and fieldwork for students thinking of getting into this field.

Student opinion on the issue is varied. While many can see the importance of programs like the ones at Emeritus, others like Allan Miranda, 21, feel that with the current economy, some things have to go. "SMC is for us to transfer, for the younger generation," said Miranda.

But many at Emeritus don't want to see cuts on the main campus either. "You might get old sometime and most of the people in the class are older, although not all," said Gerda Range, a student at Emeritus. "It helps to look ahead."