Silicon Valley community colleges could see enrollment bump
San Jose City College could see increased enrollment through a plan by the new state community college chancellor. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    After years of declining enrollment due to the pandemic, community colleges across California are considering a new approach to attract more students—enrolling students before they even graduate high school.

    California Community College Chancellor Sonya Christian is proposing a three-pronged course of action to encourage enrollment, as reported in the Los Angeles Times last week. It is part of the Vision 2030 plan, a framework for improving California’s community college system.

    Christian’s plan proposes enrolling high school freshmen into community college courses to increase dual enrollment, creating partnerships with labor organizations and increasing bachelor’s degree programs offered at community colleges across the state.

    Lee Lambert, newly appointed chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, said he believes a focus on dual enrollment is part of a future transformation needed in community colleges across the country.

    “Folks now have access to the level of knowledge that I didn’t have when I was at the same age,” he told San José Spotlight. “Can we build off of that and accelerate one’s acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities at a much earlier age? I think the answer is yes.”

    Christian’s proposal would allow high school students to enroll in at least one college course per year, allowing them to graduate with a goal of 12 college credits. This would increase the overall community college student population, along with efforts to engage people aged 50 or older.

    In April, San Jose Unified School District faced criticism for ending its middle college program, also known as middle college. San Jose Unified School District was unavailable for comment.

    In the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, enrollment for the 2022-23 school year was at 82% compared to the 2018-19 school year, according to a district spokesperson. The district saw approximately 5,800 dual-enrolled students in the 2022-23 school year.

    When student enrollment slides it affects state funding. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state froze funding at 2017-18 enrollment levels. That will change in 2025, when the state starts looking at enrollment numbers in real time.

    Beatriz Chaidez, interim chancellor of the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, said while the district is not reliant on enrollment numbers due to its basic aid status, she is a strong proponent of middle college as a former principal.

    “It’s a really great way to engage communities that potentially don’t see college as something that’s attainable,” she told San José Spotlight.

    Even though San Jose-Evergreen Community College District took an enrollment hit during the pandemic, spokesperson Ryan Brown told San José Spotlight it’s close to reaching pre-pandemic enrollment levels. Enrollment will increase an estimated 18.7% from fall 2022 to fall 2023, according to preliminary data. The district also has students participating in a middle college program. Brown said between fall 2020 through summer 2022, the district had 2,821 dual enrollment students at San Jose City College and 2,527 at Evergreen Valley College.

    Another area Christian wants to grow is fostering partnerships with labor organizations to encourage their workers to enroll in college. Lambert said this will be beneficial to the community because it would enable workers to earn technical degrees.

    There are 31 bachelor’s programs offered at community colleges across the state. Christian wants to expand the degree opportunities.

    The Foothill-De Anza district offers bachelor’s degrees in automotive technology management, dental hygiene and respiratory care. The San Jose-Evergreen district does not offer bachelor’s degree programs, but Chaidez said the district is looking into degrees it could offer that wouldn’t directly compete with four-year universities.

    Lambert said with Christian’s plan, he wants to see more students succeed at the community college level.

    “Let’s graduate more students. Let’s get more students to transfer to the universities, get more students to go to career technical education programs,” he said. “That’s going to help us reach more low-income, disadvantaged students.”

    Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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