SACRAMENTO — Student fee increases and uncertain budgets triggered a decline in enrollment of over 300,000 students during the last two years, according to a recently released report that attributes the changes to ongoing budget crises and a 136 percent increase in student fees implemented in the California Community Colleges system.
According to “Addendum: Impacts of Student Fee Increase and Budget Changes on Enrollment in the California Community Colleges,” a report mandated by the Legislature, student enrollments dramatically declined when fees were increased from $11 to $26 per unit during academic years 2003-04 and 2004-05.
“Given the relationship between fees and participation rates, the increase from $11 to $18 and subsequently to $26 per unit in Fall 2004 had a dampening effect on students entering our system — even in the year when the system budget was restored and more course sections were offered,” explained Chancellor Marshall (Mark) Drummond.
Chancellor Drummond noted that prior year’s budgets were far more volatile due to several years of state fiscal shortfalls and resulting budget cuts to the community colleges. As a result, colleges needed to respond in a more fiscally conservative manner by severely cutting large numbers of course sections, which negatively impacted student enrollments.
“Ultimately, what both the system and its students need is budgetary stability and insulation from rapid fee increases,” said Chancellor Drummond, referring to the long-standing Community Colleges Board of Governors policy that opposes fee increases that are not gradual, moderate and predictable.
The report, authored by Patrick C. Perry, Vice Chancellor of Technology, Research, and Information Systems, reveals the following:
The community college system has now lost 314,000 students due to the combined effects of fee increases (in Fall 2003 and again in Fall 2004) and system budget volatility.
Disproportionately large losses have occurred in older students age 25 and older, and in first-time and returning student populations.
Although the total student population in the system declined, there was little disproportionate effect on students by ethnicity or gender.
There was little difference in impact on students from lower income geographic areas, which points to the effectiveness of the system’s statewide financial aid campaign (“I Can Afford College” www.icanaffordcollege.com).
Even though the latest fee increase, which was enacted in Fall 2004, was accompanied by a budget augmentation to the system, that enabled colleges to offer some 6,000 new course sections, the system headcount continued to decline by 1.33 percent in 2004-05.
“Only until large first-time and returning student populations begin to return to prior levels will growth begin,” the report concludes. “Worth considering as a possible policy strategy to combat this might be to ramp up outreach and marketing efforts on a statewide basis to get students back into the system. Further research and outreach targeting older students and their specific needs and demands should be considered, along with targeting high-growth geographical areas and populations of the State.”
The entire text of “Addendum: Impacts of Student Fee Increase and Budget Changes on Enrollment in the California Community Colleges,” is available online at http://www.cccco.edu/divisions/tris/rp/reports.htm.
The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office provides guidance for the 72 districts and 109 colleges constitute the California Community Colleges system. The largest system of higher education in the nation, the California Community Colleges provided educational, vocational and transfer programs to more than 2.5 million students during academic year 2004-2005. More information about the system can be found at www.cccco.edu.