Enrollment Mismanagement Plagues Palomar College

by on February 4, 2020 · 7 comments

in Education, San Diego

By Richard J. Riehl  / Riehlworld / Feb. 4, 2020

After a campus visit, a state-funded agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistant Team (FCMAT) issued its November 8, 2019 report, describing Palomar College’s financial position and management practices. The news wasn’t good.

The report gave the school’s Fiscal Health Risk Analysis a 44.5% rating, indicating the school’s probability of insolvency in the near future. According to FCMAT, in two years the school will have drained all its reserves, forcing it to borrow $6.5 million from an external source to stay solvent.

Here’s but a sample of what FCMAT found:

  • The college has not provided clearly written and articulated budget assumptions, supporting revisions to the board, at least quarterly.
  • After eight years in the position, the chief business officer has recently been “separated from the office.” An interim appointment has been assigned.
  • The managers and staff responsible for the college’s human resources, payroll and budgets do not meet regularly to discuss issues and improve processes. With no formal documentation in meeting minutes to show communication about the personnel budget, one board member says the report reveals the offices are not on speaking terms.
  • The college does not have a comprehensive enrollment management plan. Enrollment projections and assumptions are not based on historical data, demographic trend analysis, high school enrollments, and community participation rates. They’re based only on goals developed in master plans using prior year actuals as a baseline.

In a December 18, 2019 San Diego Union Tribune article, Palomar College Puts President on Paid Administrative Leave, Paul Sisson writes: “Craig Thompson, president of the faculty senate, said opening satellite campuses in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo simultaneously put too large a drain on resources. Thompson said a decision to increase hiring, which brought 40 additional teachers onto Palomar’s rolls last year, contributed to faculty dissatisfaction with Blake’s leadership.”

Not long after my November 16, 2019 article, “Palomar College President Not Ready for Prime Time was published”, I discovered The Palomar Files: Candid News about Palomar College, a campus blog with postings from two faculty members: the English Department’s Dr. Rocco Versaci and the Math Department’s Professor Shannon Lienhart.

The credibility of these two can be measured by their combined 50 years of teaching at the college and the stellar ratings they get from their students, which can be found at ratemyprofessors.com.

In his post, “Finding the Leak”, Dr. Versaci graphed the college’s total revenues and expenditures over the last several years, pointing to 2017-18, the year the college opened its two educational centers in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo, when expenditures began to surpass revenues. He wrote, “Using these short-term revenues, the district made long-term expenditure decisions based not on data, but on hope. Despite the fact that there was plenty of evidence that the District’s enrollment goals were not being realized, the expenditures continued to increase unabated as though the temporary fixes would continue indefinitely.”

In her post, “A Half-Truth is Not the Truth”, Professor Lienhart writes, “Three months after Palomar College President Joi Blake opened the North and South Education Centers simultaneously, the school issued a news release, declaring, ‘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.’

“The numbers, however, tell a different story. Enrollment was predicted to grow by 7% in the year after centers were opened. But instead of growing enrollment, the college suffered a 1% decrease that year.”

It’s hard to believe Palomar College has no comprehensive enrollment management plan. I don’t know much about school finance, but I learned a lot about enrollment management from my 14 years of experience at Indiana State University and Cal State San Marcos, where responsibility for enrollment planning and management was in my job description.

My enrollment management teams included representatives from the faculty, as well as the offices of business and student affairs. My goal was to keep the campus community informed of enrollment projections and our success or failure in meeting our targets.

At its December 17, 2019 meeting, Palomar’s Governing Board received a call from California Community Colleges Chancellor Elois Ortiz Oakley, who informed them that the worst case scenario for dealing with the school’s financial crisis would be for the Community College Board of Governors to assign a special trustee to oversee the college’s operations, replacing Palomar’s board until the college regained solvency.

Would the three of the five board members who’ve supported President Blake’s administration see the irony in that?

Stay tuned.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Ray Carney February 4, 2020 at 12:14 pm

Never used to be that way when George Boggs was president, Mike Gregorek administration and Pat Farris was running finances. Palomar College now suffers from the liberal, politically correct, all inclusive, kum bah yah nonsense. It used to be a good school, the nursing department under Richmeyer was one of the nations best. Now, it’s become just another trade school mill cranking out worthless degrees. Shame, the 80’s and 90’s, you got a really good education, not anymore.

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Avatar Michael B. Reiner, Ph.D. February 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

I appreciate the comment from the blog, “A Half-Truth is not the Truth.” Was there really enrollment growth? “The numbers, however, tell a different story. Enrollment was predicted to grow by 7% in the year after centers were opened. But instead of growing enrollment, the college suffered a 1% decrease that year.”
It is all too common that leaders, on both sides of the political spectrum, provide false narratives and alternative facts to maintain their power. So sad.
In addition to Palomar, the Peralta Community College District is in dire straights, with a FCMAT scores of 69.9! House on fire! And then there is City College of San Francisco, which recently cut hundreds of classes to deal with a multi-million dollar deficit.
Do you see a pattern here?

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Avatar Ray Carney February 5, 2020 at 2:23 pm

Dr. Reiner: Palomar College has been plagued by nonsense and my position stands as a former employee, son of a former RETIRED employee in business services. Palomar needs help and I am glad tje state is getting involved.

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Avatar Michael B. Reiner, Ph.D. February 5, 2020 at 2:32 pm

Ray, I agree! Palomar had a great reputation during the George Boggs years. I once interviewed at the college for a senior academic leadership position before the new centers were opened and expressed concerns about their viability. My comments were not in compliance with the orthodoxy of the administration.

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Avatar Ray Carney February 5, 2020 at 7:22 pm

Dr. Reiner:

George Boggs gave me an OFFICIAL LETTER of appreciation in 1996 for my actions during the fire of that year. I stood by at the telephone office dispatching campus patrol while coordinating with San Marcos fire and the San Diego Sheriff, still have that letter. I received my CJ degree from Palomar College in 1996, went on to work for CHP, got bored, spent the 35 years of my life in the alarm industry, Pioneer,CAPS ring bells? Palomar needs to regain it’s reputation, not promoting because of political correctness. Sometimes “old white men” can run things better than others. The last president was hired for PC. Let’s knock off this nonsense, do things right.

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Avatar Ray Carney February 5, 2020 at 7:38 pm

Dr. Richter:

From 1995 to 2004, my mother, Maryann ran the telephone services at Palomar College, dial a phone on ANY campus, she was responsible for it. I ran their telephone accounting system during that same time. A part time job, but I knew the old CPM computer language whereas the college did not. Boy I could tell you stories about calls made by employees, adjunct, staff, contract and non-contract, vice and president employees. Let’s just say, instead of doing their jobs, they were calling 1-800-sex lines, many lost their jobs or calling and running businesses on college time, I am sure the climate has not changed. I would love to see the phone bill of Olga Diaz, councilwoman of Escondido, now running or county supervisor who is second in charge in student services (counseling), see if she’s using her office and college resources for her campaign. There is always corruption at Palomar, I remember Mike Ellis, buildings and grounds, lined his pockets on the college dime. Even had maintenance work on his home. Only in Chicago does that happen but he retired without a squeak. So when I hear that the state is taking charge, I say, ABOUT TIME. Students come FIRST. Palomar College, decades of corruption.

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Avatar Richard Riehl February 6, 2020 at 9:06 pm

When I was at CSUSM for 6 years I was responsible for enrollment planning. I worked closely with my Palomar colleagues to assure smooth transfers and to advise freshmen applicants who didn’t meet our admissions standards to go to Palomar to prepare to transfer. I was impressed by the colleagues at the college. It’s too bad the board fumbled on their pick of this president. She lacks the leadership skills needed for the job, and that should have been evident based on her resume.

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