Santa Barbara City College faces an enrollment crisis which will lead to a financial crisis. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, SBCC enrollment had sharply declined. In 2014-15, more than 20,000 students were enrolled in SBCC; this past year, merely 14,000 were. This was an enrollment decline of approximately 30 percent.

City College’s decline in enrollment is likely now to turn into a crisis. The typical approximation is that about half of the college’s enrollment is from the local area and about half from elsewhere. This means about 7,000 students who attended Santa Barbara City College this past year were not locals. 

Out of area students are disproportionately younger and more likely than local students to attend full-time. Among the data the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office provides are ages of students. Almost 5,000 students at SBCC this past year were 18 or 19 years old. The local area generates close to 2,000 total 18 year olds each year, about half of whom attend SBCC. This means that, over a two-year period, the local area generates almost 2,000 18 and 19 years olds who attend SBCC. Accordingly, this means that about 3,000 of the 5,000 18 and 19 year olds who attended the college this past year were from out of the area.  

There are also about 5,000 students who are 20 to 24 years old who attended City College in 2019-20, of whom also about 2,000 were from the local area and 3,000 from out of area. Of the approximately 4,000 SBCC students 25 and older (anywhere to in their 70s), they were overwhelmingly local — probably about 3,000 local and 1,000 out of area. The above figures are estimates but provide a conceptual framework for evaluating SBCC’s likely enrollment in the 2020-21 academic year.

Likely enrollment from out of the area will diminish significantly especially if classes do not resume on campus in fall semester, as now appears likely. UCSB has already announced it will have mostly remote classes in its fall quarter. It is entirely possible that SBCC enrollment will decline to as few as 11,000 to 11,500 students this fall semester. This would be a single-year decline of about 20 percent in enrollment between 2019-20 and 2020-21. However, because the out of area students who would not initially enroll in, or return to, SBCC are disproportionately full-time, the full-time equivalent student total could drop by as much as one-quarter between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

To be clear: a single-year full-time equivalent student enrollment decline of one-quarter would not just be the largest ever in the history of SBCC but perhaps unprecedented in the history of the California community college district system. 

It is imperative for Santa Barbara City College to prepare for the worst in projecting enrollment next year. The current worst-case scenario that there will be no California resident student enrollment decline in 2020-21 should be revised. At the least, worst case enrollment planning should proceed on the basis that enrollment may decline by a full-time equivalent student fraction of 20 percent. In addition, SBCC should work with similarly situated community college districts in California for a revised state funding formula that protects community college districts experiencing sharply declining enrollment.  

Lanny Ebenstein is president of the California Center for Public Policy.


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