Skip to Content

Local community college enrollment continues to lag during the pandemic

Hancock College students
Allan Hancock College students attend class during the fall 2021 semester. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to negatively impact community college enrollment at the national level, as well as locally.

According to data recently released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment at community colleges has dropped nationwide more than 13 percent since 2019.

On the Central Coast, similar numbers are being reported at all local schools.

Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria is reporting enrollment has taken about a 20 percent over the course of the pandemic.

"Our enrollments are like the rest of the nation," said Allan Hancock College Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers Our enrollments are way off from pre-pandemic. We know that part of that has to do with student income. There's some new research out this week talking about how the cost of education, or at least the perception about the cost of education, is really keeping students from coming to school."

In San Luis Obispo, Cuesta College began its first day of the spring semester today with enrollment down approximately 13 percent compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

"We certainly are not where we were pre-pandemic," said Cuesta College Superintendent/President Jill Stearns. "Early in the pandemic, we were not seeing the reduction in enrollment that many of our sister colleges were, but at this point in time, I would say while we still haven't been hit as hard as some, we definitely do see a significant decline in our student enrollment."

At Santa Barbara City College, which began the spring semester Tuesday using a mostly distance learning format, it is reporting about a 17 percent decline in enrollment since the start of the spring 2020 semester.

Educators at both colleges indicate a number of factors are to blame for the steep decline.

"For many of our students, they're young and $18 an hour sounds like a pretty good wage, so they're taking jobs," said Walthers. "Some of the students are afraid of the costs of coming to college. Some students are nervous about Covid. Some students are frustrated that they're coming to class in-person one week and then not the next week, so I think once we get some more stability in that, we'll see those students coming back."

Declining enrollment is a major concern for educators who worried about the longterm impacts the pandemic may cause.

"It's huge for the community," said Walthers. "We're really getting to the point of losing a half a generation of students and we know that students graduating from our programs, they're earning $9,000 more than before they came just because of the fact they have a degree. It's so important for these students for their longterm future to be in class ."

Stearns added that enrollment is also paramount to the amount of educational opportunities that are available to students at all of the school's various campuses.

"It's important that we maintain our institutional size in order that we might be able to keep our full scope of our curriculum and the variety of offerings that we have for our community," said Stearns.

While both Cuesta and Santa Barbara City College started spring semester on Tuesday, Hancock begins classes next Monday, Jan. 24.

Enrollment for the spring semester remains open for Hancock College students. For more information, click here.

Author Profile Photo

Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

Skip to content