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California casts a wide net to increase enrollment amid decline

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

The state’s community colleges struggle to retain and attract students while demand for workers with college degrees rises.

By Isaac Dektor, News Editor

Valley College's enrollment has consistently declined overt the last five years. (Graphic Illustration by Vickie Guzman/ The Valley Star)

Valley College’s enrollment decline indicates a statewide trend that was addressed on Monday by California’s community college system board of governors.

The 116 schools in California’s community college system saw a decline of 318,800 students or nearly 15 percent between 2019-20 and 2020-21 according to a memo prepared for the board of governors. Valley reported a loss of 2,944 students over the last two school years, a trend that is mirrored throughout the district. The headcount drop will not affect California Community Colleges’ state aid but may impact adjunct faculty, according to Edsource.

Part-time adjunct faculty are usually hired for a few semesters before they continue to work in the industry that they have been hired to teach in. Stephanie Goldman, acting executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said some faculty will lose their jobs due to the enrollment decline.

“The part-timers who maybe have worked at a certain district for decades are going to start to lose out,” said Goldman. “They got fewer people enrolling in classes and the first ones to go are going to be the part-time faculty.”

When enrollment declines, part-time adjunct faculty are the most affected employees due to their shorter contracts that are based on class availability. With a smaller headcount, the demand for classes will decline and the need for part-time adjuncts will shrink with it.

Districts are funded based on the metric of full-time equivalent students, which is calculated by dividing the total course credits being taken by all students by a full-time course load of 12 units.

State funding for community colleges is partially based on enrollment, but districts with enrollment decline are funded based on older and higher enrollment numbers. These protections are called “hold harmless,” and were extended until 2025 in the state’s latest budget. California also has protections in place that allow colleges to use old enrollment data during times of emergency such as a pandemic.

Valley College president Barry Gribbons said that “hold harmless” and other protections have bought schools some time, but if current trends continue, the state could be in trouble.

“There won't be any fiscal impact for California Community Colleges for a couple of years because the state has put provisions in place to stabilize funding,” said Gribbons “That said, we do have to work on bringing our enrollment back for the next couple of years prior to those provisions ending.”

Gribbons also said that Valley is developing a marketing strategy in order to drive up enrollment.

“Presumably [the marketing strategy] would include social media, advertising, direct mail pieces and it could also include other forms of advertising like radio ads, cable ads, bus stop signs and billboards,” said the college president. “But first we have to get the draft planned and finalized.”

Legislators approved $20 million in one-time funds for colleges to invest in methods to increase enrollment and retention of students.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, demand for college degree carrying workers will exceed supply by 2030 due to a rising need and slow growth.

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