A Bad Economy is Good News for Santa Monica College

A bad economy is good for Santa Monica College. When there is a crunch for cash during economic downturns, more people enroll in community college across California. "With statewide unemployment now at 7.6 percent, thousands of displaced workers are enrolling at community colleges in order to acquire the education and job skills they need to reenter the workforce," a letter from the California Community College Chancellor's office said. SMC has approximately 33,000 full time students, a 3 percent increase from last academic year.

This increase in student body means SMC receives more money from the state government. For every full time student, which is equivalent fifteen hours of class per week, California gives SMC $4,500, SMC Vice President Randal Lawson said. The recent student increase is a "good thing" because it restores 2006-2007 academic year enrollment levels, Lawson also said. SMC enrolls more students than other community colleges because of "aggressive recruiting," Bruce Smith, SMC public information officer said.

Aggressive recruiting could halt if the $295 million SMC construction bond doesn't pass this November. SMC's infrastructure is currently nearing capacity with classes filling up quickly and parking a hassle. "Each semester is increasingly inconvenient as I have to come even earlier in the morning to find parking, figure out my schedule and sign up for classes months ahead of time, because if you don't, there are no classes left," Brittany Campbell, a third-year SMC student said. At a certain point, SMC will start turning away students if there isn't enough physical space.
Having adequate classroom space is important for returning students that need education to further career ambitions during economic slumps. Twenty five year old Brian Jones was working as a Jaguar mechanic since he graduated from high school. "Business was slower in the last couple years," Jones said. "My carrier was a ball and chain it was either get out now or stay."

36 old John Oberdorf went back to school because he admired his girlfriend's neuroscience PhD, he said. "She gets paid such good money by using her mind," Oberdorf said. Oberdorf dropped out of high school when he was 15 and worked as a carpenter for years earning $20 an hour. He plans on attending SMC for five years to earn nursing degree.

Attracting a variety of students keeps SMC fiscally afloat. During other recessions, such as 1991 and 2001, enrollment figures increased, Smith said. Instead of spending the extra state money, SMC built a reserve fund that is proving useful right now. Amidst California's worst budget crisis, SMC isn't receiving any money from the state. "Historically [SMC] has a high level of reserves," Smith said. SMC had an $18 million reserve fund that is now covering operation expenses while legislators battle over budget issues in Sacramento.

SMC should continue accepting as many students as possible. This means expanding in order to accommodate the highest number of students. Community college is a very important institution for many people that couldn't attend higher education other wise. High enrollment levels are good for SMC because it gets more money from the state. Let's hope the bond in November passes so SMC can fill up even more classrooms.

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