The Santa Monica Community College District has agreed to pay a penalty to the Los Angeles Community College District if too many students living in Los Angeles continue to attend Santa Monica College.
The three-year agreement, effective July 1, limits to 5,000 the number of Los Angeles students who can attend Santa Monica College full time without the district incurring a penalty. The cap does not apply to students living in Malibu.
The agreement was designed to ease a dispute between the enrollment-rich Santa Monica district and struggling West Los Angeles Community College, whose enrollment has declined by 12% to 15% annually for the past three years.
The 50-year-old Santa Monica College has about 10,000 full-time students. West Los Angeles College, whose permanent physical plant was started in 1979 and is only 50% completed, has between 3,000 and 3,500.
Dr. Jack Fujimoto, president of West Los Angeles Community College, said the financial penalty will give his fledgling college a chance to compete for students with its neighboring giant.
"It is very difficult to build a new college when students in your attendence area can enroll in a different district," Fujimoto said. "With the 5,000 limit, Los Angeles students will at least be forced to take a look at our program.
Dr. Richard L. Moore, superintendent of the Santa Monica district, said that he supported the agreement, but only as an interim measure to give the state Legislature time to work out a system for the free flow of students among the community college districts.
"A student should be able to attend the community college of his choice," Moore said. "Without the free flow of students, we, as a small district, would be in the position of having to dismantle the college. This is an issue that must be resolved."
Over the past five years, the Santa Monica district has enrolled an average of 6,500 full-time Los Angeles students. The district is still working out the details but estimated that unless reduced, that enrollment would require a payment of more than $1 million to the Los Angeles district. The Santa Monica district's total yearly budget is $32 million.
"That is not a figure we would take lightly," Moore said, adding that the penalty system would spur the district to put a cap on its Los Angeles enrollment.
Officials said they will not cut off Los Angeles enrollment at 5,000 but are trying other methods to induce Los Angeles students to attend West Los Angeles College. West Los Angeles is being promoted on the Santa Monica College radio station, KCRW-FM, and a representative of West Los Angeles College works in Santa Monica's admissions office.
The new agreement replaces a five-year agreement scheduled to expire June 30. The old agreement also called for a 5,000 limit on enrollment of Los Angeles students, but provided no penalty if the limit was exceeded.
"There was not much incentive to keep to the limit if nothing happened if you exceeded it," Fujimoto said.
Fujimoto said that he has no problem with the free flow of students among districts, as long as the system of financial support for community colleges is not tied to the number of students attending each college.
"The way it is now," he said, "you have the students, you get the money. You don't have the students, you don't get the money. There is no way that new colleges can compete against established colleges under that financial arrangement."