Nationally and in California, the pandemic has hit community college students especially hard, with enrollment declining at a higher rate than at four-year institutions.

This raises critical concerns about equitable access to and success in higher education as well as the ability to meet California’s workforce needs.

The drop came on top of pre-pandemic enrollment declines nationally and, to a lesser extent, in California, where population growth has slowed significantly.  This is one of the reasons why we moved away from relying solely on enrollment as a determinant of funding colleges in California.

Pinpointing the precise level of decline has been difficult. Comparing the 2019-2020 academic year to the 2020-2021 academic year, student headcount declined by 14.8 percent. This means that our system enrollment at the moment is roughly 1.8 million students. Pre-pandemic metrics of enrollment were unable to count certain categories of non-credit students and the rapid problem solving during the pandemic has brought new challenges to measure enrollment in asynchronous non-credit courses. This means that we need to continue to innovate and design better metrics to adequately measure and compensate for non-credit courses in our system.

By any measure, however, our enrollment declines are significant, and they command the full attention of our system and college leaders. Leaders must take urgent action. Many of you have been leading the way and statewide we see promising actions that include:

  • Re-imagining how to maximize student support by packaging financial aid, emergency grants, and philanthropic support.
  • Meeting students’ basic needs by using state and federal funds to forgive student debt, covering textbook costs, increasing food pantry hours, delivering food to students, providing child care stipends, laptops, hot spots, and emergency housing vouchers.
  • Operating call centers to reach out to students who took an excused withdrawal or those not re-enrolling. 
  • Leveraging the statewide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Call to Action, and Guided Pathways to refocus local efforts and attention on improving classroom climate and campus climate. 
  • Improving student advising by creating work study “student navigator” programs to help students enter a path and stay connected with the campus and the resources offered.
  • Establishing task forces to address intentional design and outreach to adult learners.
  • Leveraging CVC-OEI by adding courses and directing students to take advantage of courses offered across our system.
  • Hosting K-12 student fairs and creating work study “campus ambassador” jobs for students, who are visiting local high schools.
  • Increasing and rethinking outreach to student populations that have been disproportionately impacted by enrollment declines. Some colleges are literally doing outreach in their community’s churches and in the fields with farm workers.

Helping our students enroll, persist and succeed is something that every single person throughout our system plays a critical role in and the Chancellor’s Office will continue to partner with colleges in this work.

The next two months will be critical for retention and enrollment. We will be leading regional convening for CEO’s and activating our partners statewide to prepare for 2022. I invite you to take bold action without delay to support students and the future of California. We need all hands on deck for student retention and enrollment.