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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

How City College is battling low enrollment — and trying to retain students
Photo: Ruben Kelley (Ruben Kelley/[email protected]

The Los Rios Community College District has continued to experience a drop in enrollment with the fall 2021 semester. The local district is not the only one in the state with declining enrollment. According to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, the fall 2020 semester had 71,045 students enrolled, but by spring 2021, that number had fallen to 66,762. Numbers for the fall 2021 semester are not available yet. 

“We do know that we’re not unique here in seeing lower enrollment rates. This is something that’s happening at colleges across the state and country,” said Crystal Lee, City College’s public information officer. “We’re fortunate in that we’re faring much better than many of our counterparts.”

To combat declining enrollment, the district is working closely with its four colleges to attract more new students and retain its current ones. Once the district went remote during the early weeks of the pandemic, the communications departments of the four colleges within the district continued their outreach efforts with a focus on reaching new students and relaying critical information to current students. 

“Some examples are targeted social media advertising, multilingual marketing, billboards, direct marketing about financial incentives that are available because of the pandemic,” Lee said. “We’ve also been reconnecting with our career education students to get them to enroll now that those programs have resumed on-ground classes.” 

Another factor to low enrollment involves the 15% equity gap among Black students and the enrollment rate of Black students versus their white counterparts. Michael Gutierrez, City College’s president, addressed this equity gap at City College’s fall convocation

“The best way to address this issue [of enrollment] is we have to maintain the students we already have,” he said. “And much of that is through our equity work. We’re using that lens to do all our work.”

Black student enrollment has been declining for several years, with the pandemic sharpening the decline. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office reports that over the last six semesters, about 325 fewer Black students per semester were enrolled at City College. 

“COVID-19 is very likely one of the reasons for the decline because we know that Black and Latinx students and their families have been hit harder by the pandemic,” Lee said. “Another reason could be population changes in our service area, where the Black/African American population is declining, possibly due to gentrification and the rising cost of housing.” 

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At City College, new cultural engagement centers and programs have launched to help students of different communities feel connected and supported, such as the Pride Center, Asian Pacific Islander Program, and Native American Student Support. An initiative called City Ways gives faculty and staff members guidelines on how to better connect with their students by improving communication skills, establishing clarity and finding relatable resources. 

“We’ve introduced City Ways, and we are institutionalizing City Ways with our classified professionals,” Gutierrez said during convocation. 

First Year Experience is another program that has helped buffer some of the effects COVID-19 has had on students of color, according to Gayle Pitman, dean of planning, research and institutional effectiveness at City College. The program connects students with a support team consisting of counselors and a mentor to help students achieve their academic goals. It also includes guaranteed courses for the first year and free tuition for the first two years.

“In our first cohort, 85% of FYE students were students of color, with higher proportions of Black and Latinx students compared to the general student population,” Pitman said. 

Pitman also said the college has seen some promising results from FYE and a narrowing of equity gaps, particularly with students of color. 

With enrollment declining comes the possibility of class availability being affected. There are currently no plans to eliminate any programs or classes, according to Lee. 

Lee said City College plans to expand its course offerings in the spring if COVID-19 cases continue to decline and vaccination rates continue to increase. The district mandates that all students and staff be vaccinated.

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