The Best of Intentions

The goal of adding extra classes was to meet the unprecedented demand for additional classes just when the state was drastically cutting back on our budgets. Given that it is not believable that the state will be putting in extra funding for classes in the next 3-5 years, we are faced with a choice: (a) figure out a way to fund the classes ourselves, or (b) reduce our classes to the amount funded by the state (and SMC has offered more classes than we were state funded the last few years). In either case, we will continue to press for more state funding, but in the present economic and political climate, we can’t afford to roll the dice with our present students’ futures while we wait for California’s budget crisis to right itself.

So, the administration – guided by the Board and working with various campus constituencies (although not everyone was fully included, it now seems obvious) – put together a plan to charge the actual costs for these extra classes. The plan entailed no reduction in state-subsidized classes (i.e., no classes at the state credit rate would be eliminated). Rather, there would be more choice for students; if you didn’t get a seat in class at the state-subsidized rate, it was purely an extra option for a seat at the actual cost-rate. Better to have a seat at a higher rate than no seat at all. (And, our “at-cost” rate is cheaper than for-profit colleges and universities, so we felt that this was offering a better alternative to students we would normally simply lose to the for-profit institutions.)

Because we were worried about the fairness issues, the Board was not satisfied with this plan. Many of us felt it simply didn’t feel “like Santa Monica” to us. We directed the administration to build in scholarship opportunities, financial aid, and waivers (like BOG waivers) in order to make the plan one that would be open to all students, not just ones who could afford to pay the “at-cost” rate. We were intending that those students who could afford the higher rate would pay it and those that could not would pay a lower rate, through a combination of scholarships, waivers and financial aid. And, our belief was that the students who could afford the “at-cost” rate would end up subsidizing the students who couldn’t. Thus, the program was intended to be a “Robin Hood” program.

The foremost issue for the Board was to create a program that matched the progressive ideals of the institution we all care about, while not abandoning a generation of students just when they need us most. Rather than privatization, we felt this was fighting the privatization of education because without our plan, students could only turn to the for-profit schools.

We want to work with all groups to make sure we address students’ needs, so we are eager to engage in the dialogue with all campus constituencies to find a solution to the crisis in education we face. But, simply hoping for more money from the state is not a solution; it is wishful thinking. Moreover, it’s not fair to the thousands of students we have turned away to merely say we aren’t funded enough by the state (or to say we are going to lobby for more money we know the state won’t appropriate) when we could do something right now to give these students the classroom opportunities they crave.

Rob Rader is a member ofthe Santa Monica College Board of Trustees.