Inland Empire Community Colleges is struggling to recover after the corona virus lost students during a pandemic.
Reflecting national and statewide trends, enrollment declined across the Inland region last year, and the rate of decline varies from campus to campus.
Enrollment fell by 14.1% during the 2020-21 school year, for example in the San Bernardino Community College District, which includes San Bernardino Valley College and Crafton Hills College in the UK.
Enrollment at Mount San Jacinto College in Riverside County fell 12.6%, while in the Riverside Community College District, which is run by Riverside City, Norco and Moreno Valley Colleges.
According to the Office of the Chancellor of the California Community College, Rancho recorded a 7.5% enrollment slide at Chaffee College in Kukamonga.
On many campuses, a one-year drop in enrollment eliminated several years of steady growth.
Teachers cite various reasons for this trend. For some, the barriers to learning online have proven to be very difficult to navigate. Others take a break to focus on personal or family preferences.
Laura Hope, Associate Superintendent of Instruction and Institutional Effectiveness at Chaffee College, said many students plan to return to college.
“Students told us, ‘I still value my education, but I have another range of needs that I need to focus on first,” Hope said.
Riverside Community College District Chancellor Wold-Ab Isaac said some students have postponed going to school to make money in the region’s booming logistics industry.
“Our county is full of warehouses,” Isaac said, adding that as demand for online products soars, they are paying significantly more than they did a few years ago.
The logistics sector added more than 50,000 jobs in Riverside and San Bernardino counties between 2019 and 2021, creating a lot of opportunities – employers in other sectors everywhere are posting “need help” signs, says John Hussing, a local economist.
“Maybe that’s why they didn’t go to school,” Hussing said. “They’re going to work.”
Final enrollment statistics for the 2021-22 academic year are not available. But in some places there are signs of a decline in student sign-ups.
For example, preliminary figures indicate that Chafi College will complete the year with 1% fewer students than in 2020-21, spokeswoman Melissa Pinion said via email.
Karin Marriott, a spokesman for Mount San Jacinto College, said preliminary indications point to a slight increase each year.
“We meet students by offering more online and hybrid classes, so we’re basically flat,” Brandon Moore, the college’s vice president of institutional effectiveness and enrollment management, wrote in an email.
The Riverside Community College District is preparing for another fall. Although the numbers are not yet available, “we predict it will fall another 9% or 10%,” Isaac said.
Isaac estimates it will take three to four years to return to pre-pandemic enrollment.
“Once you get in the pit, it’s very difficult to get out of it,” he said.
Dina Humble, Instruction Vice President at Valley College, said she expects the San Bernardino campus to return by 2024-25 after enrolling in 2021-22. Enrollment at Valley College fell 15.6%.
Enrollment at its sister campus, Crafton Hills College, fell 10.7% last year. Keith Wurtz, the college’s instruction vice president, said enrollment will drop slightly by 2021-22, but he does not expect sign-ups to fall further.
“I think this is a temporary rift,” he said. “I’m optimistic we’ll see some increase in the summer and fall.”
Isaac said the arrival of the corona virus was the biggest factor in the drop in enrollment at schools in Riverside, Norco and Moreno Valley.
“The pandemic was a big shock,” he said. “We had to switch everything to online classes overnight.”
It was difficult for low-income students and many of them did not have a place to study, he said. Others did not have enough laptops to study online.
Then there were the financial shocks that paralyzed their families.
“What we are seeing are huge upheavals in their living conditions,” said Hope of Chafi College. “Many of them are sofa surfers, not sure where their next meal will come from.”
Hope said the disproportionate number of students who dropped out were black and Latino men.
Jared Bones, 24, a native of Ontario, is studying kinesiology at Chaffee, a student with pandemic.
Barnes, a black man, said he lost his job at a home decoration store because he felt compelled to close. He lost his apartment.
“I had to stay in my car and stay at friends’ houses for a while,” Barnes said.
His laptop was not reliable and he was not ready for the transition to online lessons, so he dropped out of two classes.
But Barnes, who played forward on Shafi’s basketball team, was not ready to give up.
“I lost my mother when I was young,” he said. “I really wanted to keep my head on the right track and make my mom proud.”
Things started to go his way. Someone offered a room. Got a good working computer from college.
He now holds two associate degrees in May – in Kinesiology and Social Behavioral Science. He plans to transfer to La Vern University in the fall to pursue a career as a personal trainer.
Vineet of Valley College said pandemic students were affected when many were major donors to their families.
“Some had to go to work,” she said. “As a result, they could not take classes.”
Others could not resist the temptation of high wages offered by warehouses, restaurants and retailers in the face of labor shortages.
“It feels like a big temptation to us,” Isaac said.
Administrators said warehouse jobs in particular are appealing to college students.
It’s not hard to see why, said Hussing, an economist. Logistics companies added 50,925 jobs to 260,483 from 2019 to 2021.
“The relationship with Logistics is possible because it has led to a lot of job growth in the region,” Hussing said. “That area has now exploded, and no other area is nearby.”
Isaac Some students dropped out because they did not want to follow the corona virus vaccination instructions.
Hope said other students were uncomfortable learning online and decided to delay taking classes until they received direct instruction.
In response to the drop in enrollment, administrators are exploring ideas for attracting students back.
Many colleges offer up to 100% off the price of student books.
“We are trying to remove as many obstacles as we can,” Hope said. “A math book can cost $ 150.”
Shafi College offers short and condensed courses in response to student demand, Hope said. Traditional 17-week semester course offers dominated, but now most classes last 14 weeks or eight weeks.
“Life happens,” Hope said. “The longer the semester, the more something is going to happen in your life that will affect your education.”
Students on short courses are less likely to delay and fall behind, Hope added.
“Students say they like speed,” she said. “They’m not bored.”
Humble at Valley College said the San Bernardino County District has introduced technology that allows students studying distance to connect directly with others attending a lecture and allow them to participate in discussions. She said the initiative was well received.
The Riverside Community College District is gearing up to target adult students, Isaac said.
“This is a large population that benefits from community college education,” he said.
Finally, as the pandemic begins to loosen its grip on the region, colleges are bringing back individual classes.
For example, 27% of courses at Chafi currently have an individual component, and in the fall that ratio will grow to 38%, Hope said. She said the trend to the classroom will again increase enrollment rebounds.