DOWNTOWN — Education proponents cheered last week when Santa Monica College officials made the sudden decision to ride the optimistic wave created by the passage of a statewide school funding measure and bring back much-needed winter classes.
That cry took on a sour note when the winter schedule, which was released Tuesday, showed that the restoration did not include classes at SMC’s Emeritus College, a program that offers non-credit courses to the community’s elderly.
The regular winter session and that of the Emeritus College are not funded separately, said Randal Lawson, executive vice president with SMC, and when the decision was made to offer a limited winter — only 250 classes compared to 400 offered last year — non-credit courses did not make the cut.
“This is really a very small session, which is basically focused on the priority areas of credit students who need to complete their goals,” Lawson said.
That killed the roughly 20 courses offered at Emeritus College last year.
Physical education classes, citizenship courses for those looking to naturalize, performing arts classes and associated productions will also go to make room for bread-and-butter academic fare, like biological sciences, English and math.
“Basically, we’re offering nothing in the non-credit area,” Lawson said.
That’s critical to funding because SMC has exceeded the number of non-credit courses it gets paid to run by the state, meaning it’s already offering too much by some standards, Lawson said.
The dead winter period will preserve funding for a normally-sized spring semester of roughly 150 classes at Emeritus College, he said.
It’s still bad news for Brenda Koplin, who has been taking creative writing, theater and current events classes at the college since 2004.
“This will definitely be an impact,” Koplin said. “I don’t know where we could possibly find similar classes.”
Marsha Stout, another Emeritus College student, said that she understands the financial constraints facing SMC, but laments the loss of a “world class program” in the winter months.
“If the money isn’t there, that’s the way it is,” Stout said.
Exactly how much money it takes to run the program is up in the air.
SMC will be paying to keep the buildings open and staff employed, meaning the only money saved will be on instructional costs. Angry students claim it’s only $160,000, and that they give that much in annual donations.
“They have no hesitancy asking us for donations, for support for bond issues, for voter approval on Proposition 30. They have no hesitation in asking Emeritus College to support them, and yet we don’t get support in return,” said Harriet Epstein, a student at Emeritus.
Emeritus students raise roughly $100,000 a year, all of which goes to operational costs, Lawson said.
The trick with Proposition 30, a ballot measure that raised income taxes on California’s wealthiest and sales tax on residents across the board, is that it does not give schools new money, it just prevented cuts.
To shoulder the cost of the winter session, SMC will spend $1.5 million it had not budgeted for the purpose. The Associated Students, the student organizing body on campus, pitched in $200,000 out of its reserves to help with the effort, and there will still be only 60 percent of the classes offered last year, Lawson said.
The money in question is a small amount next to the cost on students, Epstein said, who rely on exercise and educational classes to power their bodies and minds.
According to a paper published in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services entitled “Exploring Interventions to Reduce Cognitive Decline in Aging,” authors Kristine Williams and Susan Kemper establish that both mental and physical engagement play roles in supporting elderly people.
Education helps the memory and physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, which keeps the organ healthy, according to the paper.
Although Emeritus classes will not be offered, officials at SMC have lined up other activities for the students, including music recitals, visits to local museums, guest lectures by retired professors and iPad and Kindle workshops, amongst others.
Those options had been lined up before the decision was made to cut the winter session.
The college is also exploring the possibility of using classrooms in the Emeritus College for Santa Monica’s Parks and Recreation Department, which would use them to offer its own fee-based class, according to a memo released by college officials.
Those who rely on the college hope it will be enough to engage the 3,400 students that take advantage of its services throughout the year.
“As we’ve been saying, there will be a lot of seniors loose on the streets,” Koplin said.