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    Two Visions of America by Don Jans

    California Community Colleges LOSE 350,000 Students

    BY John Hetts, Ph.D.


    This item provides the Board of Governors (Board) provides an update and opportunity to discuss changes in student headcount from 2019-2020 to 2021-2022 and preliminary results from the statewide survey of potential, current, and former students who had previously applied to the California Community Colleges as a follow-up to discussion from the Board Strategy Session on August 15, 2022.


    The Omicron variant wave arrived and peaked during the start of the Spring 2022 semester, once again substantially disrupting student and college plans for the spring, further exacerbating previously documented enrollment declines in our system. While data for a few colleges remain to be reported, sufficient data is available to make meaningful observations about general patterns of student enrollment in Spring 2022 and for the 2021-2022 academic year.

    Although data is still not yet complete, reporting from districts which accounted for 98.5% of student headcount in Spring 2021 is available to help understand the continuing impact on overall student headcount. Among reporting colleges, 2021-2022 unduplicated student headcount declined approximately 4.4% (~80,000 students) compared to 2020-2021 and 16.0% (~350,000 students) compared to 2019-2020. The observed decline was not uniform across our student populations. More substantial declines continue to be observed among underrepresented students of color (particularly Native American/Alaska Native students), male students, and older students. However, the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic continue to even out slightly in its second year, with the pattern of decline becoming more evenly distributed amongst different student populations. Student populations which experienced larger declines from 2019-20 to 2020-21 are now show smaller declines from 2020-21 to 2021-22.

    In partnership with system stakeholders, the Chancellor’s Office is undertaking a number of critical efforts including: a Chief Executive Officer Student Engagement, Persistence, and Success Roundtable with representatives from across the state’s eight regions; System Learning Tours with members of the Board of Governors, the Student Senate for the California Community Colleges, the Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges, and the League to understand and elevate promising approaches to supporting students enrollment, persistence, and completion; the development and release of a compendium of all allocations and resources to help support student-centered investments and strategic expenditures of state and federal funding to support student engagement and re-engagement, enrollment, and success; and partnerships with system researchers and the RP Group on a statewide survey of prospective, current, and former community college students as well as in depth institutional and longitudinal student research with the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the Wheelhouse Center for Community College Leadership and Research.

    Preliminary results from the statewide survey of students mirror research done on students and prospective students nationwide. Key highlights among prospective students who have not enrolled yet are that: they have not enrolled because they are considering another higher education institution (33%), they cannot afford college (29%), and/or need to prioritize work right now (27%). For previously enrolled students, the responses have been different and yet similar. Previously enrolled students indicated that the need to prioritize work (31%) and the inability to afford college (28%) both remain key barriers. Additionally, their responses indicate that their need to prioritize dependent care (21%) and the lack of availability of enough online classes (20%) are serving as critical additional barriers.

    Our students responses reveal that even though the California Community Colleges remain a highly affordable educational option, navigating work-life balance, being able to afford for the total cost of education both on paper and in opportunity costs (having to work less/earn less), and having enough flexible educational options remains a challenge for our students. However, amidst all the challenges they detailed, when asked, nearly half of the respondents indicated that they would like to be contacted by their college for help based on their responses. The survey was specifically designed to precisely create those opportunities for our colleges, providing information directly to colleges about which students would like help and what they need to support the full re-engagement of the students of California as we begin to emerge from the pandemic together.

    As a system, we have the opportunity to advance the transformation of our colleges that students (and prospective students) are asking for and the Vision for Success goals and commitments have framed to advance these transformations.

    The final results of the survey will be available next month and an update and final report on the survey will be provided at a subsequent meeting. This data, in combination with the outlined actions, will support the recovery of our communities and our student-centered actions will continue to move forward with urgency.

    John Hetts, Ph.D. is Executive Vice Chancellor of the Innovation, Data, Evidence, and Analytics Office of California Community Colleges.

    The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Citizens Journal


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