Golden Gate Xpress | City College of San Francisco and SF State students struggle to stay in school amid rising financial hardships

Amid a pandemic and rising inflation, college undergraduate enrollment in San Francisco fell by 21% from 2019 to 2021, according to the US Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey. Local students feel their financial hardships have affected their ability to pursue an education.

According to a study by the California Community CollegesCity College of San Francisco lost nearly 10,000 students between 2017 and 2021.

“When the community colleges suffer enrollment losses, that trickles down to us,” said SF State Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment Eurania Isabel Lopez.

According to Lopez, as university enrollment declines, this typically leads to increased strain on students, teachers and faculty. Lower enrollment figures could lead to class cuts and faculty layoffs.

CCSF’s 28% drop in enrollment during the pandemic is double the number of losses reported at community colleges nationwide, according to a study by the California Community Colleges.

“If our [enrollment] numbers are low, then everyone suffers, ”Lopez said.

SF State reported a total of 28,880 students in Fall 2019. By Fall 2022, that number had dropped to 24,461, which represented a 15% decrease according to the SF State Enrollment Summary. From 2010 to 2019, SF State did not dip below 29,000 students.

Jonathan Finch, a recent SF State graduate who transferred from CCSF, works from home on Sept. 21, 2022. Finch suffered an unexpected rent increase during the last year he was in college that necessitated finding a job. “I was still working while I was in school,” Finch says, “I almost had to drop out.” (Joshua Carter / Golden Gate Xpress) (Joshua Carter)

Jonathon Finch, a recent SF State graduate who transferred from CCSF, nearly left the university a year prior to graduating due to an unexpected rent increase.

“I had to go back to work and it forced me to push my classes back a few semesters,” Finch said. “It was something I really did not want to do.”

Kenneth Hopkins, a current CCSF student, suffered financial hardships during his time at the school.

“It would’ve been super helpful if the school could’ve offered financial assistance, you know, like free meals, free parking… most of us could use whatever we can get,” Hopkins said.

According to Lopez, SF State has offered application workshops, pre-admission services, lecturers representing SF State at community college transfer centers and has partnered with financial wellness programs like iGradto help counter the decline in enrollment.

“We have emphasized boosting awareness around financial aid opportunities and increasing financial aid literacy,” Lopez said.

According to Hopkins, CCSF made calls to prospective students earlier this year to advertise the university.

“My friends were getting voicemails telling them about City College’s free tuition and that classes were starting again in person, and they aren’t students here,” Hopkins said.

Lopez remains optimistic about the future enrollment numbers, especially now that CCSF has finally returned to in-person classes, which began in Fall 2022.

“It’s really good to be back in person,” Hopkins said. “I’m definitely looking forward to being able to go to SF State next year.”

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