With enrollment down 29%, San Francisco North Bay community colleges ramp up course, degree options
After pandemic-driven enrollment drops over more than a year, the state’s community colleges are ramping back up as California continues to reopen, boosted by over $100 million in stimulus aid as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $7.6 billion stimulus package that he signed in February.
Like the rest of the state, the North Bay has seen a decline in enrollment in its community colleges. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, average enrollment dropped by 29.2% at four colleges — Santa Rosa Junior College, Napa Valley College, College of Marin and Mendocino Community College, according to Oakland-based EdSource, a not-for-profit information, research and analysis organization.
To recover, colleges are increasing marketing efforts, adding new courses and degrees, and offering students a variety of in-person, online or hybrid courses.
Santa Rosa Junior College
All the community colleges in the North Bay suffered under shelter-in-place orders, especially in enrollments for hands-on courses, such as welding, automotive, medical and culinary.
At Santa Rosa Junior College, Dr. Pedro Avilla, vice president, student services, said of its 21.4% drop in enrollment — the smallest drop among the four community colleges profiled in this story — about 15% of the decline came in those types of courses.
Other factors for lowered enrollment at SRJC include students who worked in the hospitality industry and lost their jobs because they could no longer afford college, as well as the difficulty for some students to comfortably transition to studying in an online-only environment, said Frank Chong, president of SRJC.
Throughout the pandemic, however, SRJC has continued to offer at least 200 live classes for professions that are considered essential, including police, fire and EMTs, nursing, dental and radiology, Chong said. And there have continued to be graduating classes.
“As the fall approaches, we will be opening even more live classes, and we are very excited about gradually reopening our campus,” Chong said. Online classes, which he said were most popular pre-pandemic, will continue along with hybrid courses, where lectures are given online and experiential work conducted in person.
SRJC also got a publicity boost in the spring when Derek Corsino, adjunct faculty member in the culinary arts, appeared on the Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship, said Benjamin Goldstein, dean, agriculture, natural resources and culinary arts.
“And several of our other faculty have published pretty major cookbooks,” Goldstein said. “So our faculty really are at the vanguard of the culinary industry, and it's great for them to bring that knowledge and skill back to the classroom for our students.”
Napa Valley College
Napa Valley College plans to expand its hospitality, culinary and tourism management programs in fall of 2022 to offer an associate of arts degree in culinary arts.
Elena Sirignano, program coordinator and chef, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She also helped open the French Laundry after Thomas Keller took it over in 1994.
The last year has been tough, she said.
“We still had students that wanted to take courses, but we had to cap classes at six people to keep them socially distanced in the design of the kitchen,” she said. "I've had students that were gung ho-headed and then dropped away, (saying) ‘I can't handle this. I can't do this. This is just too mind-blowing’ and they just vanished.”
The students currently in the program have remained employed, and there will be more opportunities going forward as the program expands.
“I’ve got students who are working in the field and want to upgrade themselves to management-level positions,” Sirignano said. “And I have people that are in second and third careers” who want to fill their bucket list. She also taught a successful restauranteur who wanted to pursue a culinary arts program.
Dr. Sara Parker, assistant superintendent/vice president, academic affairs, said the fall schedule will be out this week and NVC will be offering slightly more than 30% of its total courses on campus.
“We are committed to increasing our number of in-person offerings,” Parker said, “but still working from the existing guidance on higher education, which has pretty strict capacity limits.”
Parker said the challenges over the last year also have resulted in opportunities. The college about three weeks ago held a virtual job fair that she said was “extremely well attended.”
“Sometimes these online virtual experiences open up the ability for new people to participate that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to if they had to travel or the timing didn't quite work for them,” she said. “I think that that's actually something kind of cool that's come out of this experience of the last year.”