California community colleges face free falling enrollment rates


Graham Breitbarth

Empty chairs in the Skyline common area

A new study released by EdSource has shown that California’s community colleges are struggling with plunging enrollment rates.

The 2021-22 semesters hit 30-year lows in enrollment as the system struggles to attract students to their campuses. A mix of economic issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, and soaring tuition rates are being blamed for these staggering numbers.

Enrollment at California’s community colleges are seeing steep declines

The pandemic oversaw one of the steeper declines, as the two-year period between the fall 2019 semester and the fall 2021 semester saw a 20% drop in enrollment of transfer intending students.

This has also affected four-year universities, as seen by CSU campuses’ loss of 12,000 students between fall 2020 and fall 2022.

The state has looked at ways to make community college education more enticing, particularly for low-income Californians, by doing away with tuition for the next four years after the passage and signing of SB 893.

“The underserved communities are missing from our classrooms.,” Student Trustee Lesly Ta told The Skyline View.

So the best thing to do to get enrollment is to provide easy access to community college, to allow the underserved communities to have access to the classroom more easily. In regards to providing free college, SB 893 is providing travel assistance and helping,” she added.

Getting potential students back into classrooms will likely be a long-term challenge, and expanding online courses may be one way to reverse the trend. This reflects a survey conducted by Educause, which found that after the pandemic, preferences for asynchronous online learning rose dramatically by 220%.

“I am an online student. If covid didn’t happen and online classes were not as accessible as they are and built out the way they are, I would not have an opportunity to get a degree,” Ta said.

According to EdSource, “since pre-pandemic 2019, the 115 campuses have collectively lost about 300,000 students, an alarming 18% drop that portends significant enrollment-based funding cuts if not reversed.”

Colleges generally rely on tuition to keep themselves funded; however, the state has taken notice and stepped in.

Pandemic and relief funding will keep community colleges running for the next three years; however, campuses are rushing to stop the bleeding of enrollment before the clock runs out. If colleges cannot reverse the trend, layoffs and class cuts are possible to balance the budget.