Student enrollment falls to lowest level since 2003

February 25, 2013

By Nash Kurilko

Photo from of StateUniversity.com

Photo from of StateUniversity.com

Student enrollment at College of Marin has plummeted to the lowest level in a decade as the school faces severe cuts to course offerings, higher fees and a much more difficult  financial aid environment, college administration officials said Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Enrollment dropped to 6,620 students this semester. In comparison to Fall 2012, there were a total of 7,256. The high-watermark of attendance was 2010, when roughly  8,200 students were enrolled.

Over the past year, the rate has gone down 9.8 percent from 7,337 students in the Spring semester of 2012, mirroring drops in enrollment statewide.  As far as student workload goes, this semester’s average units increased to 7.4 credits compared to 7.2 credits for Spring 2012.

Faced by the budget crisis, COM cut 19 courses from the schedule compared with spring 2012, continuing a trend that has shrunk the course catalogue by about 50 classes, or 6 percent in the past three years. A total of 56 units were cut from the spring 2013 credit class schedule compared to spring 2012.

Similar reductions were made to all course schedules beginning in Fall 2010 when COM offered 2,563 units, as opposed to Fall 2012 when only 2,456 units were offered.

“I know the school is doing the best they can. But at some point, there are just too many students vying for the same class,” said Lance Reyes, a third-year engineering student who serves as President of College of Marin Associated Students. Reyes has not had any real difficulties enrolling in classes, but says many of his classmates have.

Apart from over-packed classes, the number one issue is money: students have been hit with huge fee increases across the state. This year’s estimated cost for a full-time student was at least $2,736, well over double the cost of $1,106 four years ago.

“To some people that might seem like a little bit of money, but there is a good population of people who that is a lot of money to,” said Scott Blood, a political science student and the student representative on the College of Marin Board of Trustees. “It could be prohibitive to a lot of people, and I think we might forget that.”

Glenn Tucker, 20, is a general education student “trying to transfer to Berkeley ASAP.”  He  takes French and Political Sciencecourses. Tucker also works part-time as an office assistant, and because of this he elects to take advantage of FAFSA. He uses the money to pay his auto insurance and buy Medical Marijuana.

“I think the numbers tell the story. It’s very clear that as soon as fee hikes were introduced, enrollment numbers dropped. It was basically like an instant correlation,” he said.

In regards to what Tucker would do to raise the enrollment rate, he says, “The key to enrollment is course offerings. Quantity and quality in course offerings, ranging from cheese-making to English 101. I would describe the cutting of certain courses this semester as a factor in the low admission”

Tucker thinks College of Marin is in a lot of ways better than a school like CCSF.  “I would definitely recommend COM to an undecided friend.  It counts for a lot that COM isn’t in as large an economic bind.”

In addition to the fee increases, students seeking financial aid have been hit with changes, including higher academic targets for students receiving federal Pell grants. At College of Marin, some 586 students were denied financial aid this semester because of poor grades, officials said.

“Five years ago financial aid applicants represented about 20 percent of our student population,” Financial Aid Director David Cook said in a statement. Yet, “Now they represent close to 80 percent of our student population.”

College of Marin offers three financial aid programs that students can make use of. These options include grants and scholarships, work programs, and federal only student loans. The  government gives grants to students who are eligible to receive them, usually due to high academic marks.

Scholarships take the form of fee waivers that the college gives to students based on either academic merit or for sporting exceptional skills. Cari Torres, the interim Dean of Instruction for College of Marin, said “I don’t know how many people who have been totally disenfranchised just because they weren’t able to get in, and that’s something that we really hadn’t experienced before as a system.”

Over 2012, statewide enrollment dropped by almost 125,000 students, and courses were cut by nearly 10 percent, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. While College of Marin has fared better than many of its peers in California, its revenues have suffered from stagnant property values. The college began the school year with a $2.2 million deficit in a $70.000,000 budget. Officials are working to cut several million dollars in the next few years. How they will achieve this remains to be seen.

In a bit of recent positive news, COM has been taken off a 2012 warning list compiled by the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges. The decision was made known to the college leadership in a letter addressed to COM President David Wain Coon.

“On behalf of the commission, I wish to express continuing interest in the institution’s educational quality and students’ success,” commission ringleader Barbara Beno wrote to Coon.

President Coon called the development great news for the college and a “testament to the administrative and teaching staff.”

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