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Cal State University system deals with declining enrollment numbers

California colleges grapple with drop in enrollment
California colleges grapple with drop in enrollment 04:15

Officials with Cal State University, the largest public university system in the country, say they've seen a 6.5% drop in the number of new enrollments since 2019.

That amounts to a little less than 28,000 fewer students over the last five years with the three Bay Area campuses among the most affected.

SF State has 20% less students than they had in 2019, followed by Cal State East Bay, which has 24.5% fewer. Meanwhile Sonoma State University has seen 34% fewer students enrolled compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Friday is typically slow at Cal State East Bay. But students say it wasn't always like that.

"Prior to the pandemic, everything on campus at least looked a lot more alive," said CSUEB senior Angel Montenegro. "Right now, the classrooms are a lot more empty."

"It's just gone so down to where on dead days, there's barely anyone here," said CSUEB senior Jennifer Perfecto.

Perfecto remembers a full and spirited campus when she was a freshman in the fall of 2019. A study by the Campaign for College Opportunity showed that since 2019, Perfecto's university has lost a quarter of its student body, about 3,090 students.

"I'm from Southern California. There was a lot more students that were coming in from different areas in California to populate this school. But now looking at it; it's just really people who are local. So a lot of people from Southern California or from other counties, they're just not wanting to come here anymore," said Perfecto.

Researchers believed that was a part of the pandemic effects, students choosing to study closer to home.

Educators also said with the high cost of living in the Bay Area and a robust economy, more students are leaving higher education to enter the work force.

"There  is a national trend. There are less positive perceptions of higher education now than have been in the past," said Cathy Sandeen, president of Cal State East Bay.  

The enrollment decline has forced many universities to cut classes and lay off faculty members.

"Even though we are offering fewer sections overall at our university, we're offering those that our students are most likely to need when they need them," said Sandeen.

"We have 5,000 to 6,000 fewer students. We need fewer classes. And so we have reduced our schedule of classes considerably to align with the students who are currently enrolling," said San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney.

To reverse the trend, many state unversities are marketing to younger students about their campus and the importance of higher education.

"We're really starting in the middle schools now before you get to that high school," said President Mahoney.

"Someone with college degree is going to earn more in a lifetime," said President Sandeen.

Perfecto agrees. She'll graduate with a bachelor's degree in May.

"I'm excited. I think overall with the experience that I've had here and with the courses I was able to take, I feel pretty good about going into a field that I want to go in," said Perfecto.

Higher education advocates said one way to entice young people to come back is to make it cheaper and easier to transfer to or attend those institutions.

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