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The People And Stories Behind California’s Community College Enrollment Drop

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Joseph Askin suspended his studies at the Santa Ana College Fire Academy, which trains students for firefighting careers. (Screenshot from video by Joseph Askin)
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Enrollment drops at Southern California community colleges range from nearly 23% percent at Compton College to just 3% percent at Los Angeles City College compared with last fall. The reasons vary -- but it all comes down to students who were already vulnerable being pushed over the edge by the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s been especially difficult for nontraditional students like Norma Patricia Paniagua of Downey, who has been attending classes on and off for 20 years at Los Angeles Valley College. Determined as she is to finish her business degree -- she was just one semester shy of graduating when the pandemic hit in March -- she couldn’t balance raising a family and taking college classes.

“I'm a single mother of two boys,” she said . “So I now had to become a full-time parent, full-time teacher, and full-time worker all at once at home.”

In addition to financial hardships, counselors say many students have not adapted to the online learning environment because they miss the engagement with instructors and students.

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“[Online classes] didn't give me the same joy,” said Fredderick Thomas, a Glendale College student. “And I think that's why I chose not to enroll for the fall.”

College administrators say it’s important to amplify these students’ stories to underline to local and state policymakers how the pandemic is making learning gaps worse and leading students to suspend their studies. The goal is to seek funds to help students, whether it’s now or when the economy improves.

“These numbers are not just numbers to me, they're people,” said Andra Hoffman, chair of the L.A. Community College Board of trustees.

She and other college administrators say it’s important to hear how these students are falling through the cracks because after the pandemic campuses will be reaching out to these students to help them return to their path toward a college degree.

LAist asked students who have suspended their studies to record videos telling us what led to their decision. Check out this one from Joseph Askin, who was studying at Santa Ana College for a career as a firefighter, and see others on TikTok.

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@laistvids Joseph wants to become a fire fighter but he decided to take some time away from college in 2020. ##fyp ##college

♬ dear katara - L.Dre

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