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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