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Cathy Summa-Wolfe
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COM Enrollment Dips

Higher fees, Fewer Courses, Budget Cuts, and Financial Aid Restrictions Take Toll

KENTFIELD, CA—Feb. 13, 2012—The student headcount numbers released today by College of Marin’s Planning, Research and Institutional Effectiveness Office indicates that at the end of the full-term enrollment period on Sunday, February 12, 2012, there were 7,337credit students enrolled. This is 525 fewer credit students (-6.7 percent) compared to spring 2011. The recent enrollment decline at COM follows a statewide trend that began in fall 2011 following budget cuts and a fee hike from $26 per unit to $36 per unit.

The decline in enrollments may be attributed to multiple factors, including budget cuts, fewer classes, fee increases, curriculum changes recommended by the California Community Colleges State Chancellor’s Office, full compliance with Title 5 prerequisite enforcement, and changes in federal financial aid requirements. 

Budget cuts to categorical programs and the elimination of a number of avocational courses from the credit/noncredit class schedule have contributed in part to the enrollment drop. There are 90 fewer units offered this spring 2012 semester (2474.94 units) compared to 2568 units that were offered in spring 2010 when the college’s enrollment had reached a high of 7946. The number of units is down from those offered in spring 2011 (2507.76 units). An average class is three units and enrolls about 20 students.

According to COM’s Director of Academic Services and Articulation Cari Torres “Units were reduced in the 2010-11 academic year for several reasons, including specific direction from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) regarding avocational courses like some art classes and some physical education classes.”

In a memo dated Jan. 22, 2010, to Chief Instructional Officers from Barry A. Russell, CCCCO Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, community colleges were strongly encouraged to visit their course offerings and review them for three priorities:  basic skills, transfer, and career technical. 

“It is the opinion of the Chancellor’s Office that …if courses that are perceived as recreational, avocational, or personal development are not voluntarily removed from the credit/noncredit offerings, the legislature or others may choose a more intrusive method,” said Russell.

Higher fees coupled with greater financial aid restrictions also has proven challenging for a number of students. According to the CCCCO, with each fee increase over the past decade, community colleges have experienced a corresponding decline in enrollment. In 1993, the state raised fees from six to ten dollars per unit - fall 1993 enrollment declined by 124,000 students. The following year, the state raised fees to $13 per unit - fall 1994 enrollment declined by 26,000 students. The state raised fees in 2003 from $11 to $18 per unit – and again raised fees in fall 2004 from $18 to $26 per unit. During this period, enrollments declined by over 300,000 students from 2.8 million in 2002-03 to 2.5 million students in 2004-05. Most recently, in fall 2011 fees rose from $26 to $36 per unit and will go up again beginning this summer 2012 to $46 per unit. Under the current $36 per credit unit fee, full-time students enrolled in 15 units pay approximately $1,080 per academic year. With the $46 per unit fee this summer, that total jumps to $1,380 a year. It is too soon to determine the long term impact that the recent fee increases will have on enrollment.

As fees continue to rise, new financial aid regulations are more restrictive. The number of students applying for financial aid has doubled in recent years, over half of COM students receive financial aid, and many more are sensitive to the rising cost of education. Of the 340 students who were denied financial aid in fall 2011 due to lack of academic progress, 233 did not register for spring 2012 semester. The new rules, which also reduce the amount of time that students can take courses and receive financial aid, have prompted COM to strengthen its procedures this spring semester for enforcing prerequisite requirements using technology to block students who lack prerequisites from enrolling in classes.

California Title V regulations for matriculation and prerequisites require community colleges to enforce prerequisites. According to the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office prerequisites are conditions of enrollment that students are required to meet prior to enrollment in particular courses and programs.  Moreover, students who have not met the prerequisite requirements will most likely fail courses requiring prerequisites.

“In the short term stricter enforcement of prerequisites may prevent some students from enrolling in classes if they do not meet the requirements, but over the longer term it will ensure greater student success,” said COM Superintendent/President Dr. David Wain Coon. “We must do everything possible to help students be successful and complete their education in a timely manner and prerequisite enforcement is an important component in achieving that goal.”


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