Article - Office of College Advancement

Community college enrollment surging

Ohlone reports largest student body ever this year

By Matt Krupnick, Staff writer.

Monday, September 10, 2007—Reprinted from Inside Bay Area.

Fremont—Ohlone College likely will notch its largest enrollment ever this fall, as Bay Area community colleges experience dramatic increases in the number of students heading to classes, Ohlone President Doug Treadway said.

Treadway said 600 students showed up unexpectedly last week to sign up for classes, putting the overall increase about 4 percent or 5 percent more than the fall 2006 enrollment.

"We're still running ahead," he said. "We haven't opened the (Newark) campus yet, either."

He said the final tally will be available in a few weeks.

Early estimates show surprising enrollment spikes at the Bay Area's community colleges for the fall term, with thousands more students than last year heading to classes at the two-year campuses.

The dramatic increases follow last year's slight statewide attendance boost after years of declines.

Fluctuating enrollment always has marked community-college enrollment, but educators and others say this year's gains are unusual. Unemployment is relatively low, which would usually equate to an attendance dip, and high-school graduation rates have slipped in recent years.

The good fortune has spread to some four-year schools. Cal State East Bay, where classes begin later this month, is predicting a 20 percent increase in freshman enrollment this year after several years of declines.

The bountiful enrollment has surprised administrators and education experts. Some said an improved state budget may be allowing colleges to offer classes that had been cut in past years.

"You've got a certain pent-up demand," said Patrick Callan, president of the San Jose-based National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education. "If there is some pent-up demand, it may be that colleges are just in a better position to meet that demand."

Another possibility is that community-college fees—lowered to $20 per unit last January—are belatedly attracting more students to the state's 109 campuses. Lowered fees generallytake longer to bring in students than higher fees take to deter them, experts said.

State college administrators said it is too early to know whether enrollment is up statewide, but anecdotal evidence suggests that's the case. Many schools have increased their marketing to attract new students, said Linda Michalowski, the state system's vice chancellor for student services and special programs.

"I think a lot of districts put a lot of effort into growing," she said. "In some cases, they found pockets (of residents) who were not being served."

Like K-12 schools, community colleges receive much of their funding based on attendance. Higher enrollments mean more money, so college leaders statewide panicked as attendance dropped after a peak of 2.83 million in 2002-03.

The Contra Costa Community College District estimates it lost more than $10 million in state funding because of a series of enrollment declines, which finally stabilized last year. This fall, the district's enrollment is up nearly 5 percent, including nearly 8 percent at Pittsburg's Los Medanos College.

Los Medanos administrators said the increase appears to be due to a combination of added courses and new facilities.

"Even our parking situation is improved," said Vice President Dan Henry.

Las Positas College in Livermore is up nearly 8 percent as well, while Chabot College in Hayward is up 6 percent after summer enrollment increased 12 percent. The Chabot-Las Positas district found surprises in a survey of residents, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Aries.

"What we found out is people know Las Positas and Chabot are here," she said. "But they're not quite sure how we can help them."

As a result of the poll, the district advertised its colleges to very specific residents, Aries said, but administrators still don't understand why so many people have flocked to chronically under-enrolled Chabot.

"It's really interesting," she said. "We know we're up, but why?"

Enrollment at Alameda County's Peralta district is up about 4 percent, while schools in the South Bay have seen boosts of at least 6 percent.

Some theorized that community colleges are reaping the benefits of an increasingly high-tech world in one of the nation's high-tech states. With technology improving in traditionally low-tech fields and manufacturing, vocational programs at two-year schools are attracting students who just want to keep up in their fields.

Others, such as 27-year-old Oakley resident Joshua Malone, have decided community colleges are the best places to switch careers. Malone, a supermarket manager, is taking process-technology classes at Los Medanos to prepare for a career in a refinery, chemical plant or water district.

"It's opened up a lot of doors," Malone said. "Community colleges really gear you to getting into a field."

Staff writer Todd R. Brown contributed to this report. Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Reach him at 925-943-8246 or mkrupnick@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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