California community colleges get millions to boost enrollment. Does it work?

In the spring of 2011, the CCSF had a total enrollment of more than 83,000 students. By fall 2016, enrollment had fallen to nearly half, to 45,479 students.

After regaining its accreditation, CCSF launched Free City, a program that provides free tuition to San Francisco residents and financial assistance to others, in part with the goal of increasing enrollment. The program was at least partly responsible for an increase in enrollment in the 2017-2018 school year of more than 10,000 students, ending a 5-year decline in enrollment. For a few years, it seemed like enrollment at CCSF was improving, or at least leveling off.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, enrollment at CCSF plummeted, and the college is currently posting some of its lowest enrollment numbers ever, with 24,791 students. This, in addition to ongoing budget issues at the college, led CCSF Chancellor David Martin to propose laying off 58 full-time teachers at the college earlier this month.

Ron Richardson is an English teacher and representative at the Associated Federation of Teachers Local 2121 (AFT 2121), the union representing CCSF teachers. He says laying off teachers will lead to a drastic reduction in course offerings, which will cause enrollment to drop further, sending the college into a “death spiral.”

AFT 2121 says counseling, ESL and English departments would see the most layoffs under the proposal.

“[Chancellor Martin] It seems determined to downsize, bowing to political pressure to move us from a community college that serves immigrants who need to learn English to survive, older learners, and anyone who wants to learn in a junior college, which only serves those seeking certificates or transfer to four-year colleges for degrees,” Richardson said.

AFT 2121 has submitted an alternative budget proposal which they say alleviates the need for layoffs. Richardson says increased state funding for community colleges is part of the reason the layoffs aren’t necessary.

Financial help

Rio Hondo College, in a suburban pocket of eastern LA County, has seen its student body drop from 16,292 to 16,370 since fall 2020. That’s still well below the more than 21,000 enrolled in fall 2019, but actually one of the very few community colleges that has managed to grow in the past year.

Enrolling students for financial aid has been key, Rio Hondo officials said.

The college used $200,000 of its $1.2 million in re-enrollment funds to hire 10 part-time staff members who coached students in applying for federal and state financial aid. All of that money came from the smaller allocation in March of last year for re-enrollment funding.

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