SMC — For the first time in years, Santa Monica College this summer will not offer “late-start” classes, a decision that means high school students in particular could have a harder time enrolling in college level courses.

SMC in recent years has offered between 22 and 44 late-start sections (so named because they start a couple of weeks after regular summer courses in order to accommodate high school students’ vacation schedules) in subjects like psychology and sociology that aren’t offered at most high schools.

While the late-start summer courses were open to any interested community college students, they were especially popular among high school students, who could sign up without paying per-unit fees.

About 200 students from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District would typically enroll in the late-start program each summer, said Sally Chou, the district’s chief academic officer.

The decision to eliminate the program comes as SMC, like community colleges throughout California, is experiencing a steep drop in state support.

SMC President Chui Tsang said the college has seen its funding from Sacramento decline by 10 percent in the past three years, resulting in fewer class offerings and more competition for classroom seats.

But he said the main reason for the elimination of the late-start program had to do with scheduling, rather than budget concerns.

A shorter school year at public school systems including the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has made it easier for high school students to take regular summer session courses, he said.

This year SMC’s regular summer session starts June 20, just two days before the last day of school at Santa Monica High School.

“This year the high school schedule has changed so that the timing will not be a factor,” Tsang said. “There will be enough time for [students] to finish the high school classes and then start the classes at Santa Monica College.”

High school students, though, could find it difficult to find slots in popular SMC courses, since they have lower enrollment priority than full-time community college students.

SMC has not yet released its summer session class schedule, but Tsang acknowledged the offerings will be lighter than in the past.

“There’s a general reduction because of budget constraints that we’re facing,” he said.

While Chou said the loss of the late-start program was a disappointment, she added the decision to end it was understandable in light of lower state support for all levels of education.

“It’s a college — their primary clients are community college students,” she said. “[SMC has] provided this great service to us for many years, and now we have to recognize that they’re also facing budget constraints.”

There’s no plan to restore the program in the near term, but Chou said the district is collaborating with the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation with the goal of offering additional courses for high school students this summer. Unlike the summer institute, those potential offerings would be fee based.

At its meeting on Thursday, the SMMUSD school board was expected to formally enter into a partnership with the Ed Foundation to hold the summer classes.

A separate program at SMC called Young Collegians that is geared toward preparing underprivileged SMMUSD high school students for college has not been affected by the cancellation of the summer late-start classes.

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