California community colleges saw drop in enrollment during pandemic

Santa Ana College appears to have been hit particularly hard with a decrease twice that of the state.
SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Community college enrollment dropped statewide during the pandemic according to data from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. Santa Ana College saw the largest decrease in the number of students enrolled, though administrators at SAC said their own data paints a slightly different picture.

Better access to financial aid, a flexible schedule and less stress are some of the reasons registered nursing student Elsie Burn said she chose the community college route.

"Being a single mom and not making as much money to go to a private college, I feel like community college was my savior," Burn said.

The numbers show that across the state, community colleges saw a nearly 17% drop in enrollment from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020. The decrease for Santa Ana College was twice that of the state, at 34%.

"Yeah, it's pretty surprising to me to hear those numbers," Burn said.

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The school's Interim President, Dr. Marilyn Flores, said Monday that data was incomplete because it didn't include no-credit or late-start students.

"We are down, but we're down about 12%," Flores said.

She also said the pandemic hit Santa Ana College hard. There was a drop of about 1,200 students.

"Some of it may have been because they had to go back to work and their parents maybe have lost their job. So, somehow, the pandemic created a loss. It could've been the loss of a loved one. It could've been the loss of a job. It could've been the loss of a home and so we know that that is impacting our students," Flores said.

Administrators at SAC said they were working to help students with access to technology, food and face-to-face training where possible, in addition to increased financial assistance from state funding.

Burn said she hoped to encourage others to take advantage of the opportunities she discovered here.

"I want to think about my role in the community and how I can encourage people and hopefully from them hearing this, it'll encourage them to go back to school and seek the counsel and assistance from a community college," Burn said.

Administrators hoped to help increase student enrollment by creating more of a college community atmosphere with the help of their new Johnson Student Center which was scheduled to open this summer.

Flores said SAC will be resubmitting enrollment numbers and the data should reflect that update by April 20.

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"The fact that the schools couldn't have foreseen it, it's understandable. But it's really not a defense. I mean, they promised and collected money for in person education. They didn't deliver it."

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