Jason Curtis, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Cuesta College, broke down the institution’s decreasing enrollment rates during the pandemic.
According to Curtis, between the fall semester of 2019 and 2020, enrollment rates dropped nearly 8%. From fall of 2020 to 2021, the amount of students enrolled dropped about 9.5%.
“Across the two years, you know, it adds up to a pretty steep decline,” Curtis said.
Upon being asked what he presumes to be the cause of downturn in enrollment, Curtis explained his theories on the matter. He stated that his conclusion for the drop in enrollment for fall 2020 was largely due to what Cuesta College could not offer during the pandemic. From nursing programs which required students to volunteer in medical facilities, to creative arts majors who could not attend studio sessions, some programs simply were not functional in the face of the COVID-19 lockdown.
“The other big thing was in the fall, we had to cancel athletics because of COVID-19,” Curtis said. “Athletics represents a significant chunk of enrollment. So I believe all of those things sort of added up to the 8% that was missing.”
In response to this year’s draw, Curtis acknowledged the fact that fatigue and life circumstances may have more to do with enrollment statistics. He believes that for some students, continuing with online classes may have been a deterrent, while others may have decided that working made more sense than enrolling in classes.
Curtis extended his desire to foster an environment at Cuesta College that students will feel safer coming back to, as a gradual transition back into in-person classes is expected.
“You know, we really hope we can create the circumstances for them to come back in the future,” Curtis said. “Because we don’t want people to give up on their educational goals.”
In recognition of the fact that faculty essentially had a month to learn how to teach online, all while students had to adjust to a completely different learning environment, Curtis admitted a difficult transition.
“It was bound to be rough,” Curtis said.
On another side of the spectrum, Curtis shedded light on the strength he witnessed from students and faculty during such trying times.
“I think the best part of the past school year was just how patient everyone was with one another,” Curtis said. “And people were really forgiving. I’m not saying that they’re not still forgiving, but I think people’s patience and tolerance is wearing thin.”
When it comes to the struggles that students and faculty have been facing since the beginning of the pandemic, Cuesta College has taken steps such as utilizing funding to invest in places that would help students the most.
Early in the pandemic, funding was concentrated on providing technology for students, whether that meant purchasing Chromebooks or making hot spots available. Then, once that became less of an issue, funding went to providing emergency loans, the gift card incentive for vaccination, and providing free lunches on the North County Campus.
Moving forward, Curtis said that administrators will continue to monitor what works best for students, and continue to utilize that emergency funding for those matters, while also acknowledging that those funds are finite.
“You know, the COVID-19 related funding that we got, will eventually run out,” Curtis said. “And so the question is, will it outlast the pandemic? Or will the pandemic outlast the funding?”
While there is a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to when exactly the virus’ spread will slow down or cease, Curtis looks ahead with hope for the upcoming academic year.
“And, you know, if the case numbers and the health situation in the county can keep going in the right direction, I think we’re gonna start to see a more normal offering of courses in summer and fall of next year,” Curtis said.
If Curtis presumes correctly, the return of in-person classes may have rates back on the rise. As circumstances remain uncertain, time will tell what to expect of enrollment in the coming academic year.