Page 20 - BusinessWest December 7, 2020
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 thing with this pandemic, there is a great deal of uncertainty as to when anything is going to take place,” Cook said. “So it’s really hard to forecast for next fall and beyond.”
But in some ways, this has been a proud moment for the schools, if that’s the right term, as they have focused their attention on the students who are enrolled and their growing needs during the pandemic — for everything from Chrome-
“When you think of the conditions we’re in now, there’s still so much uncertainty that people are feeling nervous about starting a new program when
they just don’t have a sense for where the world is going to end up. They’re thinking, ‘what is the world going to look like, and how do we even navigate this?’”
books to hotspots so students can have internet access, to food and even desks so students can study remotely.
Meanwhile, the schools are doing what they always do — looking to the future and seeing how the pandemic will impact the employment land- scape with an eye toward preparing students for what will be a changing job market.
“The economy is changing, and jobs are changing, and we were already beginning to see these shifts before the pandemic,” said Salomon- Fernández. “When you read reports from the World Economic Forum, you see predictions that, over the next several years, many of the jobs that exist now will disappear. We knew there was a change coming in the future of work, and what we’re seeing now is that the pandemic is affecting how we work — and what the work is.”
For this issue and its focus on education, Busi- nessWest takes an in-depth look at how the pan- demic has impacted the region’s community col- leges, and how they’re responding to these even stronger headwinds.
Christina Royal says enrollment at community colleges
has been dropping consistently since 2012, a pattern exacerbated by the pandemic.
          Difficult Course
Cook told BusinessWest that the presidents of the state’s 15 community colleges meet weekly.
They’ve always done this, he said, but the meetings are different now. For starters, they’re by Zoom, obviously, and the tone is decidedly dif- ferent as the schools collectively deal with chal- lenges on an unprecedented scale.
Unprecedented, because the schools have never faced a perfect storm like this one.
“There’s a solidarity there, for sure — you’re with a group of peers and colleagues contending with similarly difficult circumstances,” he said with some understatement in his voice. “We do a lot of listening and sharing — of strategic actions; navigation of federal, state, and local regulations; and best practices. We’re all coping with the same challenges.”
And there are many of them, starting with enrollment. As noted earlier, several forces have been pulling the numbers down for the bulk
of the past decade, including the smaller high- school graduating classes and the economy — and the impact has been significant.
Indeed, overall enrollment at STCC had fallen by 30% between 2012 (when there were 7,000 stu- dents on campus) and the fall of 2019, said Cook,
and it took another 15% hit this fall.
“From 2012 until now, we’ve lost about 40% of
our enrollment,” he noted. “This is staggering for any industry, any sector, and it tells a certain story about community colleges.”
 The story is similar at most all of the other community colleges. Royal said enrollment has been declining at a rate of
roughly 5% a year since 2012,
or the peak, if you will, when
it comes to enrollment growth
in the wake of the Great
Recession, and the pandemic
has certainly compounded the
problem. At HCC, enrollment
is down 13.7% (roughly 600
students) from the fall of 2019,
while the number of full-time
equivalents is down 17%. And
they are projected to decline
further for the spring (enroll-
ment is traditionally lower in
the spring than the fall), she noted, as her school and other community colleges have announced that all learning next semester will be remote.
“A lot of what we see in our enrollment decline is students not going anywhere — they’re sitting on the sidelines.
      At GCC, the school hasn’t been hit as hard when it comes to enrollment, perhaps an 8%
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      20 DECEMBER 7, 2020
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