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L. A. City College: 'Queen's' Glory Fades

December 12, 1985|SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

After losing nearly half of its students over the last three years, Los Angeles City College--the first two-year college in the city and for years the largest--has become mired in a downward spiral of declining state funds, reduced class offerings and fewer and fewer students.

"In my chemistry class there are not enough solutions or equipment to do the experiments," said Anna Vigil, 21, of Los Angeles. She is studying to be a dental assistant and worries that she may not be able to complete a required course because only one class will be offered next semester.

Trying to Fit In

Like its sister campuses throughout Los Angeles, City College is in a painful transformation, attempting to find its economic and educational niche. Recently, the school has put more emphasis on attracting students by offering more non-credit, community service classes in subjects such as aerobics, crafts and real estate investment.

The school on North Vermont Avenue in east Hollywood is still well-regarded for its programs in visual and performing arts, foreign language and vocational training. But teachers and administrators agree that budget cuts have created serious problems in the past few years.

Those include:

A freeze on new purchases the last three years, "which has decimated the college's ability to upgrade obsolete equipment, to provide needed new equipment and to repair broken equipment," according to a report by a campus administrator.

The loss of half the campus's custodial staff.

The elimination of on-campus medical and psychological services.

Cuts in counseling and student services said to be vital in retaining the poor and minority students.

A 10% reduction in the 1,800 credit classes originally scheduled for this semester, with more cuts scheduled for the spring semester. This will delay many students from taking required courses.

Last spring, in her preface to the school's proposed budget for this year, L.A. City College President Stelle Feuers wrote:

"Given the continuing funding cutbacks governing next year's budget, it appears unlikely that the college will be able to deliver a quality, comprehensive educational program."

Drop in Students Blamed

Most administrators and faculty point to the school's declining enrollment, mirrored throughout the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District, as the chief culprit in the growing troubles at L.A. City College. Community colleges are funded by the state based on student enrollment.

The drop has been attributed by faculty and administrators to the decline in college-age students nationwide, as well as to the $50 per semester fee the schools began charging last year. Others say the problems have been exacerbated by financial mismanagement, short-sighted planning and a top-heavy administration at both the college and at district headquarters.

"In a period like this, management has a responsibility to cut its own expenses to the bone and put everything it has into program and instructional services," said Carl Friedlander, an English teacher and campus representative of the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

All agree that the school has changed dramatically since the heady days of championship football and high student enrollment. The students are now mostly working members of minorities--Latinos, blacks and Asians who attend classes part-time. They are older than student bodies of 10 years ago, many of them returning to school to learn new job skills.

Faded Glory

Los Angeles City College used to be "the queen of the community college system," said Barbara Benjamin, a Spanish teacher and frequent critic of school and district administrators. As president of the school's Academic Senate last year, Benjamin successfully led a largely symbolic vote of no-confidence against Feuers.

"They criticize the governor for not giving us more money, but if I were governor I would not spend a penny until the district cleans up its act," Benjamin said.

In response, Feuers said: 'I largely took the blame for district edicts, and the faculty associated all the cuts with me.

"The changes here have been traumatic," added Feuers, a former psychology teacher who became president in 1979. "The first couple of years the response was, 'You have the money, but you're hiding it.' Then, the charges of mismanagement. Finally, it starts to sink in when there are fewer and fewer students showing up in everyone's classes."

Districtwide, enrollment at the nine campuses in the Los Angeles has dropped from 139,000 students in 1982 to about 93,000 this year. During the same time, enrollment at L.A. City College dropped from 20,000 to 13,700.

Fewer Students Go On

The transfer rate of students going on to four-year universities from City College has also fallen dramatically. Feuers said she no longer keeps track of the rate--budget cuts have eliminated a district statistician who kept such records--but "whatever it is, it isn't as high as it should be."

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