California Community Colleges Threatened by Enrollment Declines

Steep enrollment declines during the coronavirus pandemic have placed California’s community colleges in dangerous territory. The declines “represent a significant challenge for the system overall and potential future threat to individual colleges’ viability barring significant local efforts to remain student-centered,” Paul Feist, a spokesman for the California Community Colleges (CCC) chancellor’s office, has said.

Data from EdSource show a 16.8% decline in enrollment since last fall. The College of the Siskiyous saw the largest percentage decline (56%), followed by Reedley College in the Central Valley (39.5%). Out of the 116 colleges in the CCC system, only six experienced an enrollment increase.

EdSource interviewed a number of students who dropped out. They gave a variety of reasons for leaving, ranging from family needs to an inability to cope with virtual learning. Low-income students and students with disabilities have had the most trouble navigating an all-online system.

Experts agree that a return to in-person learning would offer the best chance for an enrollment rebound. But it’s not clear when that will happen. As of right now, the state is on track to fully reopen on June 15. But a number of CCC chancellors have already announced they’ll remain partially closed to in-person instruction this fall.