“Half the truth is often a great lie” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Three months after Palomar College President Joi Blake opened the North and South Education Centers simultaneously—and against the original, more measured and fiscally-responsible plan to stagger the openings—the school posted a misleading announcement/faux news article . It reads, in part, “enrollments are up across Palomar Community College District, as fall semester numbers exceed expectations at Fallbrook’s North Education Center and the South Education Center in Rancho Bernardo.” A quote from President Blake amplifies this assertion by declaring that the new campuses were “hugely successful in drawing new students.”
The numbers, however, tell a different story. While it is true that enrollments were up slightly, it is far from true that the enrollment growth “exceeded expectations” or were “hugely successful.” In actuality, that enrollment was predicted to grow 7% (1,300 FTES) in the year after the centers were opened. (linked page from Draft Financial Recovery Plan). But instead of growing enrollment, the college suffered a 1% decrease in enrollment that year.
Imagine if, back then, the college community had been provided with honest assessments and were encouraged to have candid conversations. That timely information might have made a world of difference in mitigating what is now a crisis situation. Boasts that are filled with half-truths may serve a person in charge who desperately needs to make the best of a bad decision, but they do a great disservice to the institution and the community it serves.
Yet, even as we just learned that Palomar College is at high risk of fiscal insolvency, President Blake continues to provide the college community and others with similar half -truths.
On November 19th, President Blake’s weekly “Tuesday at 10” communication to the campus gave an enrollment update where she provided the following table as evidence of enrollment growth trends.
Note: the percent change is a comparison of the enrollment (FTES) between fall 2018 and fall 2019.
Blake claimed that “Overall, FTES is up 3.02%.” But do you notice any campus missing in this chart?
Here is a more complete chart including all campuses. This chart was constructed with data provided by the college's Institutional Research & Planning Dashboard only 3 days after Blake's communication to the campus.
If one combines all of the enrollments at the centers, the chart reduces to this:
This shows that fall 2019 enrollment was only up 1.77% from the previous year, not 3.02%, and still a far cry from the 7% enrollment growth that was predicted to occur once the centers were opened. What was that prediction based on? Hope?
This also shows that net enrollment growth at all centers was only 0.26% or a paltry 18 FTES, while nearly all of the growth realized was from distance education. These numbers confirm what many professors have suspected: the centers are not generating additional enrollment as President Blake asserts, rather a shell game is being played by taking existing enrollment and shifting it to the new centers.
Compounding the problem is that President Blake has continually pushed for more online classes at the expense of face-to-face classes. Why she decided to open two expensive face-to-face centers while simultaneously advocating for more online classes is unclear. Even the slightest analysis of this “try everything” approach would reveal that these two decisions work against each other.
In addition to promoting half-truths in order to put a positive spin on bad decisions, President Blake has also worked hard to dismiss all criticism as “false narratives,” “chatter,” or even “harassment.” This tactic has worked on her Board majority of Trustees Hensch, Halcon, and Evilsizer. She has encouraged Board members to look only to her for information, and again, these three have been happy to oblige. Unfortunately, they have been so happy to oblige that they have given her an unprecedented 27% salary increase, lifetime health benefits, and a million dollar office suite—all while the school has been in financial straits. Now they are poised to add a new dean position, to the tune of $160,000, to our overburdened budget. Trustees Hensch and Evilsizer already approved this; Trustee Halcon will surely rubber stamp this financially irresponsible move of President Blake’s at the December 10 Board meeting.
And, despite an overwhelming vote of no confidence from the faculty and staff, these three continue to back every initiative she puts forward. In order to solve our problems, Palomar College desperately needs new leadership with integrity, and not people who will turn their backs on the college, students, and the community.