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Helping Community Colleges Build on Progress during the Pandemic

Hans Johnson February 4, 2021
photo - College Student Walking on Campus and Wearing a Mask

Ongoing disruptions to California’s colleges and universities have raised concerns about whether the pandemic has made students less likely to enroll and stay in college. Some recent news is encouraging: both the University of California and California State University report enrollment increases in fall 2020. But early indications suggest a decline in enrollment at the state’s community colleges. Governor Newsom’s recently released budget proposal cites survey data showing community college enrollment down about 8% and notes declines in financial aid applications.

To mitigate these trends, the governor proposes new funding to support emergency financial assistance for students; college enrollment and retention efforts; improved access to online courses; tutoring, counseling, and mental health services; and programs that address food and housing insecurity. Additional funds are directed to faculty training, including culturally competent professional development and the use of technology to improve learning.

Given the heavy toll of the pandemic, it is a testament to the outreach conducted by community colleges that the declines in enrollment have been relatively modest. Even so, the governor’s focus on ensuring that more community college students are able to continue their education is the right one.

California’s community colleges are a linchpin in our state’s higher education system and serve as the primary access point to higher education for low-income, Latino, and African American students—the same residents bearing the brunt of the pandemic and its economic fallout. The chancellor of the community colleges, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, has noted that “the inequities of the pandemic and the economic recession have affected community college students more than any population in higher education.”

Governor Newsom’s proposal could help community colleges further the remarkable progress made under recent reforms, most notably the dramatic improvements in completion of gateway English and math courses. Greater student success at the community colleges—in particular, increasing the number of students transferring to four-year colleges—will help promote upward mobility among underserved Californians and play an important role in the state’s economic recovery.

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