Saddleback College suffers low enrollment due to multiple factors

On Aug. 13, President of Saddleback College, Dr. Tod A. Burnett, announced in his Annual State of the College report that student enrollment had reached a remarkable low.

“We have predicted for some time that our enrollments would eventually decline, and over the past year a number of factors have created an enrollment ‘perfect storm’,” wrote Dr. Burnett.

According to the South Ornage County Community College District’s College Daily Term Comparison Report  Fall 2014’s enrollment number is currently 25,220 compared to Fall 2013’s enrollment which was 26,118.

Saddleback College Vice President of Instruction Kathy Werle said the numbers could increase for this current semester because the enrollment for late start classes has not been finalized yet.

“The decline in enrollment is due in part to new, state-imposed regulations that require students to matriculate to get priority enrollment, and reducing the number of times students can repeat courses,” Werle said.

Limits have now been placed on the number of times a student can enroll in a course after completing with either an unsatisfactory, or passing grade.

“In some of our career technical programs, there are labs where students want to repeat the same class to learn the latest software or to improve their skills,” Werle said. “They are now unable to do so.”

“When people are able to get jobs, they are not typically attending school,” Werle said,  while noting an improvement in the OC economy. “They come to us when they need new skills or to finish a degree so they can get a job.” which is another reason for the drop in student enrollments, given California’s economic recovery from the recession.

Werle also attributes the loss of potential students to technological glitches with the college website, frustrating prospective students and hindering the enrollment process.

Saddleback is reviewing the courses it offers and the courses in highest demand.

“We are looking at all the data to see what classes are offered, and we’re looking at ‘bottleneck courses’ that students need to finish a degree or [a] certificate,” Werle said. “We’re looking at the courses that students need as prerequisites and are trying to increase the number of courses that will help the students finish their specific program, or get them to the next level of [that] course. A lot of those are in math and English.”

Saddleback is working to target potential students by informing the public of career technical course options.

“In the career technical area, we put out a wonderful magazine for all the career technical programs that we have,” Werle said. “We have also made enhancements to the web, [such as] the registration page.”

Additionally, Saddleback is encouraging enrollment through “nudges,” which are electronic reminders the college sends to specific students to register. Nudges are more effective than overwhelming the student with email reminders, Werle said.

The college is encouraging students to enroll in Saddleback earlier in the year, “So that we can give them the two semester priority registration that they get as new [highschool] graduates,” Werle said. “We are working closely with our K-12 schools and the [Capistrano] Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified school districts.”

“This is the college’s priority this year,” Werle said. “We want to make sure we are fully funded to be able to do the work we need and continue to develop a schedule based on student needs.”

Enrollment isn’t just a Saddleback issue, it is also prevelant at the district’s other campus, Irvine Valley College.  IVC  2014 fall semester growth has been lower than originally projected, said IVC Vice President of Instruction Craig Justice.

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