Orange County community colleges saw a rise in full-time enrollment last year, though their total enrollment figures took a hit.
The area’s nine community colleges reported total enrollment declined 1.5% to 121,822 this year, according to this week’s Business Journal list.
That follows a 10% decline in last year’s list; two years ago the decline was 21%.
The drop in local enrollment comes amid a national decline.
Community colleges across the country saw a 7.8% drop in enrollment over last year, according to education data firm National Clearinghouse Research Center.
Saddleback College in Mission Viejo this year saw the largest drop in part-time and total enrollment. Part-time enrollment is down 24% to 9,647, while total enrollment dropped 16% to 16,218—a continuation of its 38% drop the year prior.
The decline, according to South Orange Orange County Community College District Chief Communications Officer Letitia Clark, follows the nationwide trend of people postponing their education—an effect of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
“People are focusing on family demands rather than their education during these tough times,” she told the Business Journal.
Shrinking family sizes, aging population and the rising cost of living in Orange County are also contributing factors to the area’s declines in community college enrollment, Clark said.
The average rent in Anaheim, the largest city in Orange County by population, saw an 11% year-over-year increase to an average of $3,381 per unit, according to a report in April by real estate market tracker Redfin Corp. (Nasdaq: RDFN).
OC is “a more affluent area, so it’s tougher to live here,” Clark said. “That contributes to food and housing insecurity. When we have those factors, sometimes it’s hard to grow a population where we see students [continue their education].”
California State University, Fullerton President Fram Virjee has also seen a decline in community college transfer applications to CSUF for the same economic reasons.
Community college students “often have more demanding financial obligations to take care of their families,” he told the Business Journal (see story, page 1).
All figures for colleges on the list solely report students enrolled in unit and credit classes, with the exception of Santiago Canyon College.
Five of OC’s community colleges reported declines in total enrollment.
Three of the five—Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Fullerton College and Irvine Valley College—saw enrollment
drops ranging from 2% to 3%.
Cypress College saw this year’s second-biggest decline in enrollment, an 8% drop to 12,740. Its part-time enrollment fell 18% to 7,537.
“When there are a lot of jobs available and we have a very low unemployment rate, our enrollment suffers. People are working, they’re postponing their education because they have jobs,” Cypress College President JoAnna Schilling told the Business Journal.
“When there are jobs, people tend to leave school and often come back later, when the job market is not so strong.”
Four other OC community colleges reported increases.
Enrollment at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa jumped 15% to 16,568, while Coastline College in Fountain Valley rose 10% to 9,308. Both colleges, along with Golden West College, belong to the Coast Community College District.
Santiago Canyon College in Orange saw a 2.8% increase in total enrollment to 14,484.
To further increase enrollment, the college has initiated a marketing campaign that targets students looking to earn an associate degree while still attending high school—a market the school has yet to fully tap into.
According to Santiago Canyon College Interim President Enrique Perez, “dual enrollment [in high school and community college] is not for everyone. It’s for that student who’s really driven and really looking to graduate with an associate degree.”