October 21, 2005

Cuyamaca College, Growing For Who?

By Raymond R. Beltrán

Between the two schools that share the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, Grossmont College, built in 1961, has overshadowed Cuyamaca, 1978, in size and population for decades. It’s larger; greener; and its proximity has always appealed to younger demographics.

Architect’s rendition of the $34 million Cuyamaca College Communication Arts Building. The building will be built into a hill, linking the lower and upper portions of the campus. Its 88,000-sqare-foot size and location will make the building a visual landmark, a “jewel for the East County

But this Fall, Cuyamaca is getting a $74.2 million budget for a new Science and Technology Mall and Communication Arts Building. This heavily outweighs the $40 million apportionment for dominant sister school, Grossmont, which has continuously served an average 6,000 more students per semester, according to records from the State Chancellor’s Office.

Critics, mainly Grossmont faculty, say the financial bias is due to a miraculous, yet questionable, growth in the non-credit student population at Cuyamaca. They claim that state funding is being poured into a school without need, instead of into Grossmont, a school struggling to hire more full-time teachers for an overpopulated campus.

‘Who’s growth and where’ seems to be the prevalent question.

This Fall, Cuyamaca will administer 151 non-credit, or self improvement, classes like Art Therapy, Music Therapy, and Physical Fitness for Life and Health, to name a few. These non-credit programs are conducted off campus, mostly at convalescent homes, and the State of California grants money to the district for them.

What’s alarming to critics is that students ages 50 and older have ballooned in numbers from 213, in 1995, to 3,250 last Spring. Elderly students now make up a quarter of Cuyamaca’s entire population, and even more alarming, non-credit students make up a third of it.

“They rely on those numbers now to stay afloat,” says Renee Tuller, Grossmont Counselor and Academic Senate member. “When they have 30 million plus more dollars of infrastructure and no students to fill them, they will bleed Grossmont College students to the point of an extreme.”

Credit students, those trying to graduate or transfer, made up 97.4 percent of the entire Grossmont student body last semester. The State of California grants districts more dollars for these credit students, but the GCCCD governing board created, for itself, a ‘blended rate’ that eliminates the significant line between credit and non-credit students, ultimately granting more to the ever expanding Cuyamaca campus.

Cuyamaca’s Expanding Population

Title 5, the document outlining course regulations for state funding, demands certain standards for its non-credit courses that receive apportionment. It requires that the courses be taught by qualified instructors, that students must “knowingly register” for the class and submit the “appropriate documentation,” and that classes must have objectives, instructional methodology as well as methods of evaluation.

La Prensa San Diego investigated several of these non-credit courses, and the results echoed last year’s LA County incident, where officials from Victor Valley College and Riverside Community College were indicted for suspicious off-campus courses. There, Alzheimer’s Disease patients and CHP recruits were among those illegally included as college students in order for the district to receive state funding. Allegedly, $2 million was embezzled.

At Chase Care Center in El Cajon, a Chase staff member conducts a Music Therapy course while playing the guitar. Some residents sing Christmas Carols and some are not coherent. The staff at Brighton Place East has no idea their seniors’ recreational activities is in the Cuyamaca catalogue. In Lemon Grove, Sungarden Terrace Activities Director Rhonda Fuentes acknowledged that some of the students in the courses have Alzheimer’s Disease and, or, dementia, along with an inconsistent instructor.

Brighton Place Spring Valley, a home that holds Physical Fitness courses, was the most questionable when considering Title 5 regulations. Activities Director Stacie Maguro says that she fills out the registration forms for interested seniors, and the residents, now non-credit students, need not sign at all. The forms are submitted to instructors and then to the college.

La Prensa’s request to see completed registration forms was denied due to privacy regulations under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, but staff at the Continuing Education Center at Cuyamaca did reveal that those same registration cards are collected and added up to receive state funding.

GCCCD Chancellor Omero Suarez, who received a vote of no confidence by the Gross-mont Academic Senate for his “lack of leadership,” did not respond to La Prensa’s request for an interview.

Grossmont’s Credit Students

“Students are having problems finding classes,” says Rick Walker, Grossmont College Student Trustee and President of the Associated Students of Grossmont College, Inc. “The [GCCCD] chan-cellor’s argument is that if Grossmont students can’t find a class at Grossmont, they can find it at Cuyamaca, but that’s not happening. They don’t do it. They go to Mesa, City, or Southwestern.”

As a Navy veteran and registered Computer Science major in 2002, Walker’s financial aid benefits required him to enroll, full time, in classes relating to his major. Finding ones that weren’t cancelled, or overcrowded, or without a part-time instructor, became difficult. He then had to double major in Network Administrations to enroll in creditable classes. Still juggling with conflicting and minimal classes, Walker ultimately had to triple major until his benefits were exhausted. 72 units weren’t wasted, and he’s still without enough courses to transfer.

Thanks to sympathetic counselors, he was able to find a job on campus. But as a single working father and student, he knows too well the whirlwind of repercussions an under funded school has on its student body.

“I had classes where people were sitting on the floor. Those students were turned away, and they probably needed those classes,” he says. “As the Student Trustee, I’m talking for the 18,000 students at Grossmont College who might have full classes shut down.”

According to records from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), of Grossmont’s 17,496 students last Spring, only 67 were non-credit, and full time teachers are juggling less than 50 percent of all courses on campus. The other half is left up to part-timers, without office hours, and who have the ability to transfer to higher paying schools.

President of Grossmont’s Academic Senate, Beth Smith, stated, “There’s, at least, a prospect of a better plan, but we’ve not had good cooperation from the district. We’ve been trying to communicate with the district about the current process … I think the district knows there’s inequities, but choose to continue with those inequities.”

Members of the senate, like Tuller and Smith, predict a financial catastrophe in the near future for the district. They say without an adequate ‘on campus’ student population, Cuyamaca won’t be able to sustain the future bills the new million dollar facilities will rack up, and either Grossmont will ‘bleed,’ or Cuyamaca’s economy will crash.

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