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Many students choose work, caring for dependents over community college, survey finds

Students who have dropped out of California’s community colleges did so because they needed to prioritize work, couldn’t afford college or had to take care of dependent family members, among other reasons, according to a survey.

The RP Group, which conducts research for California’s system of 116 community colleges, surveyed about 76,000 prospective and former students in the summer and fall of last year. The survey’s preliminary findings were shared with the system’s board of governors last fall and, without many changes, a final version of the survey was presented to the board Monday.

Among former students, 33% of them said their need to prioritize working was a major barrier preventing them from returning to a community college. Another 29% said they couldn’t afford college, while 22% said they had dependents to care for and 18% said they needed to prioritize their mental health.

Prospective students cited similar reasons affecting their decisions to not yet enroll at a community college. Nearly one-third of them said they can’t afford college, while 29% said they were prioritizing work and 18% said they had to care for dependents. Another 29% said they were considering a college or university outside of California’s community colleges.

California’s community college system, which includes 116 colleges across 73 local districts, suffered dramatic enrollment declines during the pandemic, dropping by about 18%. As of last fall, enrollment has begun to stabilize, however, with most colleges reporting that their declines had leveled off. Some even saw their enrollment increase in fall 2022.