California Colleges Work to Increase Enrollment After Huge Pandemic Drop

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
San Jose Community College is creating neighborhood centers in low-income areas to reach out to prospective students. Photo Credit: Cristiano Tomás / Wikimedia Commons

California colleges, especially two-year institutions, are working overtime to attract more students this fall, in the wake of a big drop in enrollment during the pandemic.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, California colleges lost more than 250,000 students from 2019 to 2021.

Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, said enrollment plummeted by one million students nationwide.

“But the steepest declines are at our community colleges and among men of color,” Cardona pointed out. “The impact of these ‘missing million’ could be felt for decades.”

Gallup poll of adult students found college attendees who had the hardest time staying enrolled are those who act as caregivers, are multiracial, or come from households making less than $24,000 a year.

Congress raised Pell grants by $400 a year in the March federal spending bill, but advocates argued those grants would need to be doubled in order to make a meaningful difference in college affordability.

Raul Rodriguez, chancellor of the San Jose- Evergreen Community College District, said schools are partnering with employers to create programs leading directly to good jobs, and they are making college more accessible.

“One of the things that we committed to early on was reaching out to the students we lost, calling them, finding out, ‘What’s going on? How can we help you?’ ” Rodriguez explained. “As well, this year, we haven’t charged students for tuition.”

Many schools are trying to make courses more attractive to working adults but offering more online courses, and making lectures viewable after the fact, a trend called asynchronous scheduling.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.