Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Santa Fe Community College has seen the bottom fall out of its enrollment, a reality college administrators had seen coming from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Enrollment at the college declined 28% in one year, dropping from 5,337 students last year to 3,841 this semester, according to an SFCC spokesperson.
College President Becky Rowley said most of the reduction was due to the cancellation of fitness classes and a large reduction in art courses.
As a result, many of SFCC’s part-time students – who make up about 80% of the college’s total enrollment – decided not to return.
“That’s a huge chunk of our enrollment,” Rowley said of fitness classes. “A lot of (the decrease) really was from areas that we’re not going to be offering the way we were.”
There are many reasons new or returning students aren’t enrolling this year.
Some are working longer hours at their jobs, while others lack access to broadband or a computer, she said. Others simply feel uncomfortable attending class at all in the middle of a pandemic that has contracted much of the economy.
While economic downturns typically increase enrollment at community colleges, as people return to school to acquire new skills, Rowley said there hasn’t been a situation comparable to COVID-19.
“It is an entirely different situation,” she said. “A lot of people don’t want to take classes that way.”
College administrators had expected enrollment to plummet since the early days of COVID-19, even projecting a 30% drop in their yearly budget. Legislative appropriations for colleges were slashed in the most recent special session.
SFCC’s Governing Board voted in May to raise tuition for in-state students by 22% to offset revenue declines, a move some board members feared would cause more students to leave.
Rowley said that, while the college doesn’t know whether tuition was a factor, she didn’t think it had an effect, because many students who left weren’t paying for full credit hours.
Some community colleges around the nation are seeing the novel coronavirus as an opportunity to increase enrollment, as some students are more hesitant to travel for college, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.