Credit: Andrew Reed / EdSource
Students study together at the library at De Anza College in Cupertino before the pandemic in 2019.

Amid declining enrollment, California’s community colleges should do more to help students in the system stay enrolled once they get there and complete their college goals, faculty and members of the statewide board of governors said Monday.

During a meeting Monday of the board, which oversees California’s 116 colleges, members learned that in addition to enrollment being down dramatically across the colleges, students who do enroll rarely go on to complete a degree or certificate.

Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said the enrollment declines currently affecting the system allow the colleges a chance to invest more in students. Because the colleges are not losing funding as a result of enrollment declines, Brill-Wynkoop said it “gives us the opportunity to invest more significantly” in students.

“This is our chance to increase per-student funding for current students and focus on their success,” she added.

The colleges are funded in part based on their enrollment, but because of a protection in the formula that determines how much funding each college gets, those colleges that have lost students are not losing funding.

The so-called hold harmless provision ensures that colleges are funded at least at their 2017-18 levels, plus a cost of living adjustment. Those protections will be in place until at least 2025.

Enrollment across the system’s colleges has plummeted during the pandemic. The system estimates that enrollment declined during the 2020-21 academic year by between 9.6% and 14.8%.

The system has been unable to fully count its enrolled students, especially those who were taking noncredit courses online.

The problem resulted in a report to the board on Monday explaining the range of the loss in student head count, which includes both full-time and part-time students. As a result, the system now reports its student head count at about 1.8 million. Before the pandemic, it had long reported its enrollment at about 2.1 million, the largest student body nationwide.

Iulia Tarasova, a student member of the board of governors and a recent graduate from Sierra College north of Sacramento, said the system shouldn’t focus just on enrollment declines “without helping students stay enrolled by providing necessary resources.” Tarasova added that the overarching issue is “that students are struggling to continue their education.”

Tarasova said that when she was at Sierra, she may not have been able to continue her education if not for the college’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services department, which provides low-income and other underserved students with supports related to housing, financial aid and tutoring, among other things.

Tarasova added that the system needs to invest in those kinds of programs that “do a lot of legwork to help us retain the students and provide the necessary support and guidance.”

“And I understand that people are tired. Faculty are tired. Students are also tired, but we refuse to give up,” she said.

Finding ways to help students succeed is key, as the board learned that students across all ethnicities do not often go on to complete college, such as by earning a degree or certificate or transferring. Asian students have the most success, with 21% of students reaching completion within four years beginning in 2015-16, according to a presentation given to the board.

Rates were much lower for Black, Native American and Latino students. Just 14% of Latino students and 9% of both Black and Native American students completed community college in that four-year span.

Tom Epstein, a member of the board of governors, said during the meeting that he was “shocked and saddened” by those numbers.

“I just hope we keep a sharp focus on this and are relentless in both reaching out to students who have left us, but also in surrounding the students that we do have with support so they can complete what they came for as quickly as possible,” he added.

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  1. Penny R Bristow 1 week ago1 week ago

    My son is failing at Diablo Valley College because he was promised if vaccinated that classes would be held in person. He has ADHD and online learning for engineering is impossible. He has had to withdraw from two classes because of format issues. Lack of professionalism of instructors just posting videos and not engaging with students. This semester after forcing him to be vaccinated his math lab and math class are both online! They … Read More

    My son is failing at Diablo Valley College because he was promised if vaccinated that classes would be held in person. He has ADHD and online learning for engineering is impossible. He has had to withdraw from two classes because of format issues. Lack of professionalism of instructors just posting videos and not engaging with students. This semester after forcing him to be vaccinated his math lab and math class are both online! They are failing our students and the DSS department has done nothing to help.

  2. Larry Galizio 1 week ago1 week ago

    Michael, we look forward to your follow-up article providing readers essential context concerning the numbers and other information in this piece. First, California community colleges, and indeed all CC’s nationwide, offer students a myriad of options that meet their particular goals. Transfer to a baccalaureate degree-granting institution is indeed one of those pathways. Yet even for those students checking a box on their applications indicating interest in transferring, sometimes those plans change. Perhaps more importantly, … Read More

    Michael, we look forward to your follow-up article providing readers essential context concerning the numbers and other information in this piece.

    First, California community colleges, and indeed all CC’s nationwide, offer students a myriad of options that meet their particular goals. Transfer to a baccalaureate degree-granting institution is indeed one of those pathways. Yet even for those students checking a box on their applications indicating interest in transferring, sometimes those plans change. Perhaps more importantly, transfer students successfully matriculating a four-year institution from a CCC aren’t required to complete an Associate’s degree. Students transferring without such a degree may not be counted in the completion data cited above, nevertheless they met their goal and the CCC was the means for their achievement. National IPEDs data are infamous for failing to capture CC student success by virtue of their means of defining “success” and “completion” from a 4-year perspective.

    Second, students in say – a welding program – might complete one year and then find attractive employment with the skills they’ve learned and exit their program for a FT position. This individual now earning $80K is counted as a “failure” or at least another “non-completer” in the data cited in this article.

    Additionally, unlike their generally financially more stable CSU and UC counterparts, CCC students are more likely to be housing-, food- ,and transportation-insecure and less able to contend with financial issues, family emergencies, healthcare issues, and life’s vicissitudes. You and I may be fortunate enough to be crafting our words within four walls with sufficient food, quiet, and immediate stability, yet a substantial percentage of CCC students are striving courageously absent some or all of those necessities for survival and the ability to focus on academic pursuits.

    Morever, many of our students arrive having been underserved by a K-12 system that still suffers inequities and underinvestment in many parts of the state. Additionally, CCC students are often post-traditional, meaning they haven’t been in a classroom, or online, for a decade or more. And many have children.

    Related to the aforementioned life circumstances, the pandemic violently and relentlessly exacerbated pre-pandemic inequalities. Communities of color and lower-income Californians – those most likely to be CCC students – have suffered the greatest losses in lives and income during the past two years.

    Finally, despite serving the lowest-income and often the most academically underserved Californians working to improve their life circumstances and those of their families, California’s community colleges receive $9,561 per FT equivalent student compared with $19,467 for CSU and $33,070 for the UC. Thus, mirroring the massive inequality in the US, the institutions with the most academically well-prepared and financially secure students receiving the most State funding, while the sector with the most underserved students receive the least.

    California community colleges can and should do better in supporting students seeking to achieve their academic and career goals. Yet in order to begin to effectively address the inequities of our state and this nation, we must confront the realities of our circumstances and invest in opportunity for all.

  3. Petra Meyer 1 week ago1 week ago

    Adjunct faculty teach approximately 70% of the classes. Adjunct faculty are paid less and most are involuntary part-time. Abolish this two-tier faculty labor system so all faculty can earn a living wage and don’t have to spend so much time traveling from college to college., and thus better serve their students.

  4. Robert L Crawford 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Please use the money to bring down the cost of classes to $5/credit. Make all books free as well

  5. Chris Stampolis 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This article provides very few statistics and lots of platitudes. California's Community Colleges currently are more successful in transfer to CSU and UC than at any time in the history of California - across ethnicities. By far more transfers now than ever before. Who prepared the report you reference? At which colleges are enrollment declines high and at which colleges are enrollment declines modest? Not that many students enroll in California Community College with … Read More

    This article provides very few statistics and lots of platitudes. California’s Community Colleges currently are more successful in transfer to CSU and UC than at any time in the history of California – across ethnicities. By far more transfers now than ever before.

    Who prepared the report you reference? At which colleges are enrollment declines high and at which colleges are enrollment declines modest?

    Not that many students enroll in California Community College with an explicit goal to earn a two-year degree within two years. Some students do express an organized goal and they should be helped. Others take a few courses and chip away at “school,” while working and handling their lives.

    The underlying undiscussed success is that Community College transfers are so successful, they are overwhelming UC and CSU upper division sections more than ever in California’s history. Onward!

  6. el 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    We should not lose sight that for many students, getting courses without a degree plan still has value. I'm in favor of doing more to help students who have a goal to graduate, and I think there is more that can be done to make school more friendly for people who also have paid employment, and to keep book and materials costs low, as well as other strategies to help people stay on track whatever … Read More

    We should not lose sight that for many students, getting courses without a degree plan still has value. I’m in favor of doing more to help students who have a goal to graduate, and I think there is more that can be done to make school more friendly for people who also have paid employment, and to keep book and materials costs low, as well as other strategies to help people stay on track whatever their personal schedule allows. For some that might be one or two classes at a time, which may be slow for finishing an AA, but it’s faster than not enrolling at all.

    I have a bachelor’s degree, and I have taken classes at the CC to pursue new skills, and anecdotally I’ve seen other people do that as well.

  7. ann 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Jeez. those stats just about confirm the CC are a complete failure and waste of money….

    Replies

    • Earl 7 days ago7 days ago

      So we should give the money to One America News, instead, right?