Various factors may impact enrollment

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Assembly Bill 19, which will allow first-year students at California community colleges to enroll in their first year for free, goes into effect next school year. 

Campus looked more sparse than usual at the beginning of the semester in August. PHOTO BY MICHAEL R.N. WEBER
Campus looked more sparse than usual at the beginning of the semester in August.
PHOTO BY MICHAEL R.N. WEBER

The bill allows students attending community college for the first time to have free enrollment for one year, with the exception of activity fees. 

Delta College students already enrolled for over a year don’t qualify.

“I love the idea of first year of college free because we’re going back to what used to be called the California Master Plan,” said Matthew E. Wetstein, assistant superintendent/vice president of instruction and planning. “Because if you go back to the 1960s when community colleges, CSU, UC were all laid out in a higher education master plan, community college was free. CSU, UC you had to pay for.”

In order for a community college to be able to qualify it must meet requirements like making sure outreach to high schools is strong and implementing programs like Guided Pathways, which Delta has done.

CLASSES AT LOCAL CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES

This semester, Delta implemented a program where professors are going to jails like Deuel Correctional Institute and teaching incarcerated students, an outreach program formed by Martha Villarreal, Acting Dean of Regional and Distance Education. 

Villarreal said two classes were taught at the jails. One was at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, where 47 incarcerated students are taking a computer science class. At the Division of Juvenile Justice in Stockton, 31 incarcerated youth took a psychology course. 

“The students were really excited to be in the class,” said Villarreal. “They feel like they have a new lease on life and it brings them hope.”

DEFINING ‘FREE’

Wetstein said he likes the idea of a free year of community college, but he doesn’t think it’s perfect.

A meeting was held at Delta College back in July with a representative of the Department of Finance, the Assembly, the Senate and Chancellor’s Office representatives to discuss the bill while it was being drafted, according to Wetstein.

“From our perspective at Delta, we already have about two-thirds of our students qualified for the Board of Governors Grant,” said Wetstein. “So our take on it was maybe a little bit different from most people.

A lot of people are advocating for a free first year of community college. For our students, most who are economically needy, are already getting that. So the question becomes if you give a blanket to everyone, you may be providing a benefit to non-needy students.” 

Wetstein said the bill should be need based, for students who need money for transportation, food and rent.

Where the funding for this bill will come from is still in speculation.

“The interesting part about that bill is that the governor has signed it, but there’s no funding that’s been put out or approved by the legislature to actually finance the cost of that program,” said Wetstein. “So between now and next July, the governor and the legislature are going to have to work out how they’re going to fund this commitment.

If the bill isn’t financed by the state legislature, Delta could be paying for it and it could hurt the schools wallet, according to Wetstein.

WILL AB 19 HELP?

Wetstein said if AB 19 goes through, it may increase interest in community colleges, which will lead to an influx of students that pay tuition at UCs and Private colleges to leave niversities and enroll in a community college.

It could also help improve enrollment.

“If this goes through and there’s funding associated with it next year, I can’t guesstimate how much it would be but it might drive a one to two percent gain in enrollment for us,” said Wetstein. 

This fall semester experienced a shortage of students enrolling at Delta. 

For the Spring, Delta is already halfway towards its goal of about 6500 of full time equivalent students. 

“I do think we’re going to be lower than the fall,” Wetstein said, “because we did reduce the sections in the schedule.” 

IMPACT OF RETIREMENT

Delta implemented a plan where early retirement is offered to professors. This may affect a few sections next semester too, such as Geography taught by Robin Lyons and Biological Anthropology, Taught by Peggy Scully-Linder. 

Both Scully-Linder and Lyon’s are retiring after this semester and concerns about the availability of their classes in the spring have risen. 

One or two of Lyons’ sections will be covered by someone who’s stepped in to teach them. Some of Scully-Linder’s sections will be covered as well. 

“I think we’ve got an adjunct, but again it’s a deal where we may not be able to cover all of her (Scully-Linder) sections,” Wetstein said. “So a lot of people are going to pick up doing like an extra class overload. We did reduce sections so, in some cases an adjunct or two might be getting a course they weren’t expecting to get.”