The collapse of community college enrollment: Can California turn it around?

Despite sinking overall enrollment, some are seeing students come back. Targeted state aid is likely helping, but so is more in-person instruction.

After community college enrollment collapsed in late 2020, California lawmakers last year gave the system of public two-year colleges $120 million to help stem the tide of departing students and bring them back.

So far, progress has been uneven. Through last fall, just 17 of California’s 116 community colleges have seen the number of students they enroll grow since fall of 2020. At 42 colleges, more students left in the fall of 2021 than in fall of 2020, according to a CalMatters analysis of system enrollment data.

Officials acknowledge that the number of students attending continued to sag systemwide. “Fall 2021 headcount is down approximately 7% from fall 2020 and down 20% overall compared to fall 2019,” a cratering of more than 300,000 students over those two years, said a March memo from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

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