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Community College Enrollment Drops During Pandemic As Students Prioritize Employment

San Diego City College is pictured in this photo, April 11, 2017.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: San Diego City College is pictured in this photo, April 11, 2017.

Community colleges faced a grim year as enrollment plummeted across the state during the pandemic, and schools in San Diego were no different.

At San Diego City College, where enrollment dropped by nearly 15% between the Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 semesters, officials said the shift to virtual instruction led some students to put their education on pause.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

“The district itself is about 8% under-enrolled right now from our target. That’s a direct consequence of the pandemic,” said Carlos Cortez, the president of the College of Continuing Education at the San Diego Community College District. “We have moved all of our programming online, and the online environment is not ideal for some students and certain programs.”

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But the pandemic did have some positive outcomes for San Diego community colleges. Cortez said enrollment for vocational training programs like welding actually increased.

“Yesterday we ran our enrollment, and we are 17% over our target,” he said. “So, we are popping at the seams in terms of enrollment in these programs.”

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Emilyn Mohebbi

Cortez said this trend makes sense, as job training programs are exactly what the country’s labor force needs right now for the economy to recover.

At Southwestern College in Chula Vista, where enrollment dropped by about 13%, students withdrew primarily due to economic factors, said Mark Sanchez, the college’s president.

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“Many of our community members have lost their jobs or have had their hours cut,” he said. “For them, their priority is employment rather than trying to go back to school at this point.”

Both Sanchez and Cortez said enrollment dropped disproportionately for students of color. At San Diego City College, while the number of students in job training programs increased, the number of Black and Latino students in those programs went down.

Both Southwestern College and the San Diego Community College District plan to require all students and staff returning in the Fall to be fully vaccinated as soon as the FDA fully authorizes the vaccines beyond the current Emergency Use Authorization.


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