Students gather in the Santa Monica College quad. (File photo)
Students gather in the Santa Monica College quad. (File photo)

SMC — After telling the community there’s no room at the inn, Santa Monica College officials announced Tuesday that they would need to embark on a major marketing campaign to bring new students to fill seats.

The Board of Trustees approved an additional $200,000 in contracts with radio stations KPRW and KROQ for on-air advertising with a digital and social media component to reach students in the area.

Only radio can reach large numbers of 18 to 24 year-olds that compose the college’s main target demographic, and the two stations selected are two of the top-branded in the area, according to a staff report.

“Their live events literally sell out in minutes and both have worldwide name recognition, which gives them a leg up in all social engagement,” according to the report.

The item also included contract increases totaling $85,500 for other forms of outdoor advertising, and campus officials will also try to recruit more heavily at Santa Monica and Malibu high schools.

For the last three years, SMC has suspended its on-air recruitment because thousands of cut classes meant there was too much demand for a reduced number of courses.

Officials told tales of students sitting in the aisles of classrooms in classes that they needed to graduate, particularly as they campaigned for support for Proposition 30, a tax measure that is expected to raise $6 billion for education over the next seven years.

Things have changed, said Don Girard, senior director of government relations and institutional communications.

“The alarm bell went off when we discovered that fall and again in the spring seat fill had dropped to 95 and 94 percent. [The SMC president] asked us to go see what was burning,” Girard said.

What they found is that 60 percent of SMC’s enrollment is composed of continuing students, or people who have taken classes at the college before and are working toward a degree.

Fall 2012 represented the highest percentage of continuing students for at least the last 21 years, and possibly ever, according to the adjoining staff report.

Only 51 percent of SMC’s credit students were continuing students in fall of 2007.

The last time the college had 9,728 new students was 1998, when SMC had 4,000 fewer students overall.

Although 94 percent still sounds like an A-grade, that decrease means a lot for an institution dependent on student enrollment for funding. A lack of new blood indicates a continued decline in the future.

“We have to change the message around to let students know that there are seats,” Tsang said. “Something needs to be done.”

Schools across the state are seeing similar declines.

It was expected after graduation rates in the K-12 system peaked in the 2011-12 school year and the economy began to pick up, softening demand for education, said Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California.

“This is good news for students and colleges, as classes can be more easily accessed leading to more timely program completion and colleges can reach out (to) currently underserved populations,” Lay said.

SMC officials aren’t taking so rosy a view, but they will be making an outreach effort to reverse the trend.

“If we put the college in a position where we don’t get the students we need, all we do is cut classes,” said Trustee Louise Jaffe. “We’ve been living that story.”

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