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Registration Changes Hit Close to Home for Santa Monica College

March 31, 1985|ELAINE WOO | Times Staff Writer

For two weeks before the start of the spring term in February, Santa Monica College ran a 60-second radio commercial aimed at prospective students. "Now you can attend Santa Monica College regardless of where you live," the ad said.

Apparently, the message hit home--and beyond. The Westside campus enrolled 19,000 students, 7% more than last spring. Nearly 10,000 are residents of the Los Angeles Community College District.

The enrollment increase is good news for Santa Monica but not so good for Los Angeles, which lost 25,000 students to other districts last year. Enrollment at its nine campuses has dropped 30% in the last two years.

During this period, Los Angeles community college officials decided to stop enforcing enrollment boundaries, believing that a free flow of students among districts would save Los Angeles the administrative costs of issuing transfer permits. They thought that the unrestricted movement of students among districts would balance itself out.

But last August they realized they had made a mistake. According to Los Angeles district records, 25,000 urban students were crossing district boundaries to attend the outlying colleges, while only 6,000 suburban students were flowing back into Los Angeles colleges.

Four-Day Notice

Shocked by those figures, officials in the beleaguered Los Angeles district notified the suburban colleges four days before the start of the fall term that the outlying schools could no longer accept Los Angeles residents.

Only Long Beach and Santa Monica were not affected. Long Beach has a continuing agreement allowing it to enroll only a few hundred Los Angeles residents, while Santa Monica, which attracts the lion's share of Los Angeles' outflow, has been aided since 1981 by special legislation that permits it to accept the equivalent of up to 5,000 full-time students from the Los Angeles district.

But the legislation expires in July, 1986, and Santa Monica College officials have not been able to get an extension. They have joined administrators at other suburban colleges to push for a statewide "free flow" policy, arguing that such a rule would benefit all community college students.

Among the campuses in the Los Angeles district that have been hit hardest by falling enrollment is West Los Angeles College, which competes with Santa Monica for the Westside's junior college prospects. Nestled in the hills above Culver City, it enrolled only 6,400 students this spring, a 22% drop from last year. Enrollment has steadily declined since 1980, when the school had close to 12,000 students.

President Jack M. Fujimoto said his enrollment is "getting close" to bottoming out. He blamed the decline on a number of factors, including the $50 registration fee imposed by all community colleges last fall.

But he also said the college has had difficulty overcoming an "image problem." He said many residents of the surrounding communities don't know they have a college so close to home. Or, because of the college's mostly minority enrollment, they think it has the drug and crime problems often associated with inner-city schools. "Once people come to school here, they find it isn't like that all," Fujimoto said.

Large Travel Program

Many potential students also are unaware of the school's strengths, the college president said.

The college offers the largest travel program in the country, covering aspects of the industry ranging from domestic airline ticketing to travel agency ethics and law, he said. It is the only community college in the Los Angeles district with programs in dental hygiene and aircraft electronics and production, he added.

But the school lacks a complete gymnasium and has no student center. "That is a problem," Fujimoto said.

In contrast, Santa Monica has more facilities and is strongly geared toward transferring students to four-year colleges. According to spokeswoman Jeannette Hartman, Santa Monica College students who successfully complete special transfer programs are guaranteed admission to UCLA and California State University, Northridge.

A 1983 study by the California Postsecondary Education Commission showed that Santa Monica sent 214 students to the University of California and 395 to state colleges. West Los Angeles College transferred 37 students to the UC system and 166 to state colleges. The study was based on 1981 enrollment figures, when Santa Monica College had 18,000 students and West Los Angeles had 11,000.

Santa Monica College also has more money to spread the word about itself.

Advertising Budget

The college spent $16,000 on radio and newspaper advertising for the spring term alone, Hartman said. West Los Angeles College cannot match that spending power. "One ad for one day would have blown our whole budget," said Joel Recinos, assistant to the president. No district funds were spent on advertising for the spring term, either, spokesman Norman Schneider said, although the college district did spend $200,000 on a major media campaign last summer.

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