Here is an exercise straight out of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Imagine Southwestern College never existed.
Science fiction’s iconic television series”Babylon 5” might not exist, nor any of the brilliant screenplays created by its gifted writer J. Michael Straczynski. Latin music superstar, songwriter and producer Julieta Venegas and her half dozen Grammy Awards might never have found voice. John Fox, a Super Bowl coach, and former Charger’s defensive tackle Ogemdi Sharron Nwagbuo could be selling footballs at Wal-Mart. Seattle Mariners clean-up hitter John Jaso might be sweeping out Taco Bell. Telemundo sports anchor Humberto Gurmilan might never have seen his way beyond his wheelchair. Ayded Reyes would likely have been deported.
Luckily this sample of brilliantly talented students began their journeys at SWC and had faculty who cared about them.
Straczynski began writing and producing plays here. Venegas wrote songs and perfected her performance skills in the SWC music department. Nwagbuo earned All-Conference honors as a sophomore when he recorded 55 tackles and 10 sacks. Fox played football on the same field. Now he is head coach of the Denver Broncos. California’s top-ranked 2011 community college cross-country runner Ayded Reyes is now on a full university scholarship and training for the 2016 U. S. Olympic team. Jaso played for iconic baseball coach Jerry Bartow. Gurmilan was News Editor of The Sun and a forensics star.
California’s theatre, sports, television media, journalism, arts and communication programs are being slashed and burned, all to balance the budget of a cash-starved higher educational system.
It is not a new story, but it is a sad one. America repeatedly stamps out enriching programs in tough economic times and seems doomed to let bad history repeat itself. Leaders in government and education making these decisions are doing so by dollars and cents. What we need is a way to budget this one-sidedness with dollars and sense.
SWC has some elite programs. Its Mariachi Garibaldi is the best collegiate mariachi on the planet Earth. Period. SWC’s brilliant Concert Choir is soon to add the Festival of the Aegean on the Greek Island of Syros to its long list of invitations. And the college’s journalism program is winning state, national and international awards. Its newspaper is ranked #1 in competition against cream of the crop universities across the nation.
For a college that few people in the nation know exists, co-curricular programs are ambassadors to the wider world and sources of pride for our challenged community. These programs inspire students to spend hours and hours working above and beyond to excel. Some enriching programs are expensive, but if our government and college administrators put in 10 percent of the time and effort that the students do to make these programs a success, our nation and our college would be humming.
Here is my challenge to SWC leadership. Do not settle for clichéd, two-dimensional thinking. Do not think you can cut your way out of our dilemma. Do not preside over the diminishment of this great college.
It is time to stop thinking like bean counters balancing books and save these programs with the spirit of entrepreneurs. Rather than paying expensive consultants, invest in grant writers to help the professors that spend endless unpaid hours begging for money to keep their programs afloat.
Ask even more from our dedicated Educational Foundation. Holding a gala every year to support student scholarships is terrific, but creating an event where proceeds spread across special programs can be just as valuable to student success. Our Associated Student Organization works to fund campus clubs that contribute to the community, but virtually nothing to support programs that invest in our students’ futures. Money is out there and many philanthropists are looking for viable programs to invest in. Build the programs, invest in organizing college and faculty alumni and start thinking outside the box to find a way. Many students’ livelihoods depend on it. Our nation depends on it.
It is time to stop treating these programs as burdens of a budget and celebrate them as gateways to the community and the world. It is possible that a future president, queen of country music, national watchdog reporter, hall of fame baseball player, Oscar-winning film director or concert violinist is spending hours investing in their future in one of SWC’s special programs.
When making fiscal decisions that affect student learning outcomes, remember this: If there is no way in, there is no path to success.