Where Have Mission's Students Gone?

June 20, 2006

Heading into the summer term at Los Angeles Mission College, officials prepared for a potential influx of students by adding 13 for-credit sections to the schedule.

About a week into classes, the college is instead in subtraction mode, having already cancelled many of the sections with the realization that students are staying away from campus in droves.

Roughly 600 fewer students have enrolled at Mission College this summer than did a year ago. The 20 percent drop -- from 2,968 students to 2,371 -- at a time when some of the nearby colleges in Mission's system, the Los Angeles Community College District, are seeing increased enrollment is troubling to those at the college. 

"A 20 percent drop is very serious, especially when we increased our offerings," said Angela Echeverri, president of the Mission College Academic Senate.

Of the eight colleges in the system that offer summer courses, five have seen enrollment increases and three decreases, according to Eduardo Pardo, a Mission spokesman. Mission College, one of the smallest campuses in the district, has seen the largest summer decrease from a year ago. 

The college had about 7,300 students enrolled during the spring term, a slight drop from a year earlier. The college is operating with a deficit of between $1 to $1.5 million, largely due to lower-than-expected enrollment figures from the entire year, said Maury Pearl, dean of institutional research at Mission College. 

Pearl said the budget shortfall has prevented the college from marketing the summer programs as much as it had in years past. But there is likely more at play.

“It's been a confluence of things that we aren’t happy about on different fronts that are posing differing problems,” Pardo said.

A new parking structure is being built on the site of an existing student parking lot, which has forced summer students to park off campus at a remote site and take a free shuttle to class. This summer, the college has gone to a four-day-a-week schedule for most classes instead of the previous two-day-a-week setup that involved four- or five-hour classes.

“That occupied the entire morning block," Pearl said. "We didn't think it was sound pedagogically, and we didn't think students could take as many classes when they were at that length.”

But the combination of limited parking, high gas prices and more required trips to campus has likely backfired, Pearl admits. "We've had unintended consequences that came along with that. If you put all this into a competitive environment, it does contribute, I'm sure, to a decline," he said.

Mission is also in a period of transition as it attempts to find a permanent replacement for a president who left in the middle of last year to take another position within the district. A campus modernization campaign has stalled, and there has been considerable controversy over the proposed addition of a Chicano studies department. The Faculty Senate nixed the plan, largely because many felt the program isn't large enough to warrant its own department. (Classes are currently held in the multi-disciplinary social sciences department.) About two-thirds of Mission College students are Hispanic.

Neither Pardo nor Pearl said they could gauge whether the campus atmosphere had contributed to a decline in summer students. “That might be a subject of debate among some people, whether potential students have heard about faculty infighting,” Pardo said. 

Echeverri, who teaches biology and chemistry, said it's hard to "tease out" the issues that have affected enrollment. She said she is confident that Chancellor Darroch Young, who entered in the fall, is taking steps to help the struggling college. "We will do what we need to do to solve the problems," she said.


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