Lowering Cuesta College enrollment rates

Cuesta College Performing Arts Center. Photo by Josh Pachio

Jason Curtis, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Cuesta College, was devastated the lowering of the enrollment levels of the institution during the pandemic.

According to Curtis, between the fall semesters of 2019 and 2020, enrollment rates dropped nearly 8%. From the fall of 2020 to 2021, the number of students enrolled dropped by approximately 9.5%.

“Throughout the two years, you know, it adds up to a pretty steep decline,” Curtis said.

When asked what he thinks caused the drop in enrollment, Curtis explained his theories on the matter. He said his conclusion for the enrollment drop for fall 2020 was largely due to Cuesta College’s inability to offer during the pandemic. From nursing programs that require students to volunteer in medical facilities, to creative arts majors who can’t attend studio sessions, some programs don’t work in the face of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“The other big thing was in the fall, we had to cancel athletics because of COVID-19,” Curtis said. “Athletics represents a significant portion of the enrollment. So I believe all of that stuff added up to 8% missing.”

In response to this year’s draw, Curtis acknowledged the fact that fatigue and life events may have more to do with enrollment statistics. He believes that for some students, continuing with online classes may have been a barrier, while others may have decided that working was more meaningful than enrolling in classes.

Curtis expanded his desire to promote an environment at Cuesta College where returning students are safer, as he anticipates a gradual transition back to personal classes.

“You know, we really hope we can make things happen so they come back in the future,” Curtis said. “Because we don’t want people to give up on their educational goals.”

In recognition of the fact that faculty essentially has a month to learn how to teach online, as students have to adjust to a completely different learning environment, Curtis admitted it was a difficult transition.

“It’s definitely going to be rough,” Curtis said.

On the other side of the spectrum, Curtis highlighted the strength he witnessed from students and teachers during the testing period.

“I think the best part of last school year was how patient everyone was with each other,” Curtis said. “And people are really forgiving. I’m not saying they’re still unforgiving, but I think people’s patience and tolerance are resilient. ”

When it comes to the struggles faced by students and teachers since the beginning of the pandemic, Cuesta College has taken steps such as using the funds to invest in areas that will best help students.

At the beginning of the pandemic, funding was focused on providing technology for students, whether that meant buying Chromebooks or making hot spots available. Then, when that became less of an issue, funding went to giving emergency loans, the gift card incentive for vaccination, and giving free lunch on the North County Campus.

Going forward, Curtis said administrators will continue to monitor what is best for students, and will continue to use emergency funding for those things, while also acknowledging that those funds are finite.

“You know, the COVID-19 related funding that we got, will also be exhausted,” Curtis said. “And the question is, will it still surpass the pandemic? Or will the pandemic still surpass the funding?”

Although there is considerable uncertainty when it comes to when exactly the spread of the virus will slow or stop, Curtis is optimistic for the upcoming academic year.

“And, you know, if the case numbers and the state of health in the county can continue in the right direction, I think we will start to see a more normal offering of courses in the summer and fall of next year, ”Curtis said.

If Curtis’s assumptions are correct, the return of personal classes could increase rates. While circumstances remain uncertain, time will tell what to expect in enrollment in the coming academic year.