SANTA MONICA, Calif. (KABC) -- Alarming new data shows community-college enrollment in California has dropped to its lowest level in three decades.
It's a trend that started before the pandemic but has just gotten worse in the last three years.
And now educators are trying to figure out how to attract more students to junior college.
"The uncertainty of the pandemic has really made people re-evaluate their lives in terms of whether they need to work or want to invest in higher education, what kinds of things they need to do to support their families," said Kathryn Jeffrey, president of Santa Monica College.
"So this is just a time for uncertainty for so many people and it's affecting community colleges, it's affecting higher education, period, all over the country."
The downward spiral started in the pre-pandemic year 2019 and continued across the community college system statewide. Colleges have lost well over a quarter of a million students.
Looking at the enrollment drop by age, the 20-29 brackets account for just under a 50% drop collectively.
When you break down the numbers based on race, you see enrollment dip across the board for all races by double digits.
Alarmed educators are trying to figure out how to reverse this trend. It's happening despite an offer of free tuition for many students attending their first two years of higher education at a community college in California.
"Those students who qualify for a Promise Grant, their tuition is covered under that grant which is funded through the state chancellor's office."
Looking back between 2008 to 2009 there were just under 3 million community college students statewide. It dipped to 2.25 million from 2018 to 2019 and plummeted to 1.8 million between 2021 to the present.
Jeffrey says despite her college seeing a nearly 20% drop in enrollment she is confident things will get better as we put the worst of the pandemic further in our rearview mirror.
"We are able to start to resume more interactive services with students more face to face on ground. We have up to nearly 60% of our classes will be scheduled on ground for spring 2023. Prior to the pandemic, we had a ratio of 80% classes on ground and 20% online, so we're getting close to where we were in prepandemic stages."