Saddleback enrollment up thanks in part to poor economy

THAT’S HOW WE ROLL (Megan Crothers)

Shawn Heavlin-Martinez

Amid the turbulent economy, Saddleback College has become home for hundreds of new students. The number of students enrolled has jumped sharply from last year’s 22,816. As of Jan. 16, there were 24,259 enrolled.

“A number of factors have contributed to this rise in student population,” said Director of Admissions Jane Rosenkrans, “most prominently the troubled economy.”

“We’re in a situation where people are getting laid off from their jobs, and they come back to school, and they get re-tooled and re-trained,” said Rosenkrans. “There’s also been an impact on the state university system, and more students are staying longer in the community college system, delaying transfer. I don’t have the data on hand, but the general trend is that the economy, and also the increased fees at the UCs are making more people look at community colleges.”

This spring semester has seen an increase of 6 percent in students enrolled, for a total of 1443 new students. Irvine Valley College has also seen a marked increase of 11 percent in students this semester.

 Rosenkrans stated that Saddleback is not having any difficulty accommodating the influx of new students, although the perennial problem of finding a parking spot will still be present. One third of all classes at Saddleback have been closed, due to being completely full. However, the admissions department is happy about this, as it shows a growth in both student population and in the average number of units a student is taking.

Also contributing to the rise in students is Saddleback’s active role in marketing itself to the region’s high school students.

“[Saddleback] students are at the high schools, they’re at the industries, they’re at the community education fairs. We have a visual presence off campus, and we have extensive marketing efforts so students can find out about the many wonderful opportunities here,” Rosenkrans said.

Rosenkrans seemed confident about Saddleback’s ability to administer to students in the face of California’s fiscal crisis. Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed budget cuts of up to $66.3 million from the CSU 2008-09 budget, in addition to the $33.1 million cut in September 2008.

 “We’re in a fortunate position, that is, we’re not in the same situation as most community colleges in California, where they can only grow a certain percentage each year, because they are funded by the state,” Rosenkrans said. “We have a much more open door policy. The Deans and the Vice-President are adding classes, we’ve tried to open as many spaces and opportunities for students as possible, and we’re in a much better position, and that’s why our growth rate is higher.”

When asked whether or not Saddleback wants to see continued growth at this accelerated rate, Rosenkranz said  “Absolutely! We have students that are young and old and everything in between. And that’s the beauty of the community college.”

As a whole, the South Orange Country Community College District is up 8 percent in student enrollment from last year, with 2,554 more students. With the announcement of the California State University system accepting 10,000 less students than usual coming on the heels of California’s financial troubles, it seems community colleges will continue to become more attractive to thousands of students of all ages.