City College of San Francisco Enrollment Plunges After Threatened Accreditation Loss

Protestors recently marched on City Hall to urge officials to step in to help save the City College of San Francisco. PHOTO BY DEBORAH SVOBODA / KQED

Protesters recently marched on City Hall to urge officials to step in to help save the City College of San Francisco.
PHOTO BY DEBORAH SVOBODA / KQED

By Alex Emslie
KQED

City College of San Francisco is facing a heavy loss of students following the announcement early this month that the school’s accreditation will be terminated next summer if a review and appeal don’t reverse the decision.

Enrollment is down 14.9 percent compared to the same time last year, and with classes starting in just three weeks, instructors across the college are worried their sections will be cut.

“That’s a significant number, and we are doing everything that we can to get the word out that we’re open, accredited and registering,” said Jennifer Aries, a marketing consultant directing the school’s enrollment push.

Indeed, the words “OPEN” and “ACCREDITED” are showing up all over San Francisco, emblazoned on a bright red background next to a City College logo. The ads shout to “ENROLL NOW!” on the school’s website. They’re in newspapers, on fliers, radio, local cable, social media and even billboards, according to City College’s marketing and public information department.

But the ad campaign hasn’t had much effect yet. The percentage of students lost between last year and this has hovered between 12 and 15 percent since enrollment opened on June 25, meaning the actual number of students lost is growing by the day. As of yesterday there were 3,414 fewer students enrolled compared to the same time last year.

Some classes that are usually full by now have just a few students, said City College faculty union president Alisa Messer, who’s been fielding calls from panicked teachers.

“All over the campus, there are huge concerns,” she said. Messer and other faculty are desperately recruiting students themselves, quick to point out that City College’s accreditation crisis stems from governance, budgeting, student tracking and administrative issues, and not from quality of education.

Messer fears the enrollment drop could have long lasting impacts even if the school manages to overturn its loss of accreditation. She said enrollment was down 15 percent last year, too. City College shed close to 9,000 students between 2010 and 2012.

“Not only are we losing students who had learned to count on City College of San Francisco and deserve to have access to that education, but at the same time, we’re losing long-term enrollment,” Messer said. “And what we’ve seen in other places that have had this sort of spiral begin around enrollment is that it’s very hard to get out.”

San Francisco officials are bracing for what a closed or drastically downsized City College would mean for the city. The Board of Supervisors Audit and Oversight Committee is holding a hearing today to discuss what city officials can do to help the college.

Some college faculty aren’t waiting for government support, though, and they’re taking the enrollment push into their own hands.

Latin American Studies Department Chair Edgar Torres said he just finished making fliers to post around campus advertising a class he’s worried may get cut. He said classes need to reach a 20-student benchmark before instruction begins to guarantee they will be offered.

“It’s a misunderstanding, because they’re fearful,” Torres said, adding he’s worried about reaching non-English speaking City College students. “They just see the headlines that we’re closing. Now convincing them that they should stay here is a longer battle.”

Torres said cut classes will likely mean layoffs for part-time instructors.

Other 2-year colleges are also seeing lower enrollment than last year, indicating not all of City College’s student shortfall is due to its accreditation troubles. The Peralta Community College District’s enrollment is down 7.5 percent from the same time last year, according to district spokesman Jeff Heyman.

“Community colleges in general see lower enrollments when the economy is good and higher enrollments when the economy is bad,” he said, adding that Peralta expects its enrollment gap to shrink as the school’s fall outreach gets into full swing.

City College instructors aren’t as confident. Journalism instructor Tom Graham wrote a “plea from City College faculty, staff and students” on Facebook Tuesday, urging people to sign up early instead of waiting until after instruction begins to add and swap classes.

“If you were thinking about waiting until Spring 2014 to take a journalism course, please reconsider,” he wrote. “The Journalism Department needs your support NOW.”

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