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COC’s enrollment soars

Posted: August 12, 2009 10:02 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Fall semester enrollment at College of the Canyons has jumped 31 percent, a sign that a weak economy is pulling more people to study at community colleges, officials said Wednesday.

"We are definitely in a period of strong enrollment and growth for community colleges," said Erik Skinner, vice chancellor for fiscal policy at the California Community College Chancellor's office.

The latest figures from College of the Canyons show 2,392 more full-time students have enrolled for the fall semester compared to the same time period in 2008, said Sue Bozman, COC spokeswoman.

"Considering that this is with the 12 percent cut in the number of classes, that's pretty significant," Bozman said.

In response to an $11 million budget reduction, the college cut 12 percent of classes for the fall. Officials eliminated classes that are traditionally low enrolled.

Causes for jump
Skinner said the state's high unemployment rate and cutbacks to state schools mean more students are coming to community colleges like COC.

"The unemployed are coming to community colleges to gain new job skills so they can get back into the work force and become employed," Skinner said. "We tend to see the increase in demand during these periods of economic recessions."

A portion of College of the Canyons' enrollment represents recent high school graduates who are continuing their education instead of going straight into the work force, Bozman said.

Even some students who typically would have attended a private school have changed plans to attend COC.

"The family finances are different," she said.

COC's enrollment figures are expected to change as registration continues for the fall semester, which begins Aug. 24.

By the numbers
About 60 percent of fall classes remain open as of last Friday.

"Classes are filling much earlier this year," Bozman said.

The other 40 percent represent closed classes that have wait lists for students, she said.

About 70 percent of seats in all fall classes are full, leaving 13,486 seats available in fall classes, she said.

Key classes like English and math, needed for students to transfer to four-year institutions, are still open, she said.

At this rate, the college may end up with a 90 percent fill rate for the fall semester, she said.

"I think that would be very unusual," she said.

Budget cuts
Community colleges have been hit with a $840 million cut from the state, about 9 percent of funds, during a time of significant growth in enrollment.

During the 2008-09 school year, the average enrollment of the 110 community colleges across the state grew 6.6 percent, Skinner said.

Community colleges typically see a 3 percent to 4 percent growth in enrollment, he said.

That leaves Skinner concerned about the number of classes community colleges can offer to serve the demand from students.

COC expects to serve more full-time students than the state funds it for, Bozman said.

"We try not to turn students away," she said.

The state funds COC for 30 students a class.

The average class at COC has 35 students, although some programs call for a low teacher-to-student ratio.

Other classes can be held in lecture halls that can hold up to 120 students, Bozman said.


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