Enrollment at SBCC dropped over 1,600 students since fall

AUSTIN P. AMBROSE, Channels Staff

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A pattern of declining enrollment at City College continues as headcount numbers fell again between fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters.

According to Dr. Paul Jarrell’s faculty in-service presentation on Jan. 13, the enrollment has dropped from 15,606 students last fall to 13,966 students this current semester. That’s a headcount drop of 1,640, or -14.8 percent.

While this does take a heavy toll on funding and the number of classes offered, it’s not a situation unique to City College.

“It’s something that a lot of other community colleges and higher education in general is seeing in certain parts of the state,” said City College Director of Communications Luz Reyes-Martin. “I think that we in Santa Barbara are in a unique position where there’s probably a range of things that are affecting enrollment.”

One of the potential causes is California’s economy. It’s a well-documented phenomenon that as the economy grows, enrollment in city colleges drops. The opposite is true in times of hardship.

During the 2009 recession in California, City College enrollment peaked at just above 20,000 students. Since then, it’s fallen a significant number.

The geographic isolation of Santa Barbara has also played a role in the declining enrollment.

“We’re not like a school in Los Angeles or even in Orange County where, someone who lives five cities away can pretty easily commute to the community college of their choice in 45 minutes to an hour,” said Reyes-Martin. “We’re bounded by mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. The geographic isolation is a challenge.”

Potential students may also be deterred by Santa Barbara’s rising housing costs. As the Independent reported in November, rent prices jumped by 20 percent in 2016 while the vacancy rate for rentals remains well below one percent.

“Housing is very difficult to find if you’re not a local student,” said Reyes-Martin.

These are just some of the reasons why City College launched its new enrollment strategy earlier this year.

“I think that Dr. Beebe has been really clear that we acknowledge that there is a drop in enrollment and the response to that is not to chase enrollment or to try to bring more people,” said Reyes-Martin. “The goal is to stabilize the drop.”

Last Thursday, the college stopped accepting applications for a new position on the City College marketing team. The administration hopes that by improving the way it communicates with the community it can slow or even reverse the declining enrollment.

As part of its new strategy, City College has also started to focus on building up its non-credit and technical education programs. A little over a year ago, it introduced the Career Skills Institute. City College hopes that by opening up classes to local working professionals who want to gain additional skills, it can solidify its base enrollment of Santa Barbara locals.

“We’re being very thoughtful about what we do as a college,” said Reyes-Martin. “It’s really about taking a look at what’s the right size for City College and offering the classes and programs that our students need.”