Pierce College’s current 10% deficit in enrollment compared to last year would normally raise the loudest alarms across the district.
But the numbers are “looking good” compared to more than half of the LACCD schools, especially LA Southwest College, with 72% enrollment this fall according to Amari Williams the Dean of Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
The exact reason for this drop is unclear.
But some professors and administrators think the main problems lie in the challenges brought by working from home and the inability for departments that rely heavily on hands-on learning to simulate those experiences in the virtual classroom.
The enrollment decline is particularly prevalent in arts classes.
Michael Gend, the chair of the Performing Arts department, said two dance classes were cancelled because they only had two or three students enroll, which falls below the minimum requirement.
Gend added that inadequate space to rehearse plays for theater and play instruments for music has stopped students from enrolling.
“To act, you have to be very loud and physical with your body for these classroom assignments,” Gend said. “I imagine those students looking around in their homes and thinking that they can’t make noise in the way that other students can in their homes.”
A reduction in enrollment is also seen in the Math Department according Eddie Tchertchian, the chair of the Math department.
Tchertchian says that the Math department has seen a 5% decrease in enrollment and explains that one factor could be students dealing with math anxiety. When taking math classes online, students may feel lost without interacting with the instructor directly.
As a solution for the Math department’s decline in enrollment, Tchertchian points to how the district Math department decided to hold all math sections synchronous except those who were already online pre COVID-19.
Tchertchian said that the synchronous math sections help students communicate directly with their instructor which may boost enrollment numbers.
To increase enrollment for departments that rely on hands-on learning, Gend proposed that Pierce College provide a space on campus for students who do not have adequate space at home to complete their courses.
Dedicating a workspace at Pierce for students, Gend says, will boost enrollment and calm anxiety stemming from distractions at home while using Zoom for class.
One of the factors that reduced enrollment could have been the delay in distribution of Pierce Lenovo and Surface Go laptops, according to Gend.
With the start of the Fall semester, Gend explains many students find themselves lost in completing their online courses without the proper equipment and advised Pierce College to find a better way to distribute these laptops or this will continue to take a toll on enrollment.
“The district has in place to get computers to students and doesn’t take into account their classes,” Gend said. “If you just start promoting the first day of the semester on how to get your free computer which may not come for a couple weeks, then students go for many weeks without the technology to even complete their classes”.
Determined to keep enrollment numbers up, Gend took matters into his own hands to individually reach out to students struggling in the Performance Arts department.
This led him to loan his personal Apple laptop to Sonny Lira who was attending zoom and submitting assignments through his phone.
After receiving Gend’s personal laptop, Lira is now able to multitask and this eased his anxiety of turning in assignments.
“With this laptop it feels like all barriers are broken,” Lira said. “I can now upload assignments with ease so I’m eager to continue to the class because now I have the equipment necessary to thrive”.
Lira explains how this personal outreach he received from professor Gend helped him stay “loyal” to the class and to continue to be enrolled in the class.
This individual attention that Lira received is what Angela Belden, Professor of Psychology, calls “attention equals retention” which is one of the solutions she proposes that could increase student enrollment at Pierce.
“We need to find a way to reach out to students to make sure their needs are met,” Belden said.“We have to give students that individual attention to help them achieve their educational goals.”
Belden advised that Pierce looks into majors and sees which students need extra guidance in completing their educational plan and by doing this she explains this can lead to higher enrollment numbers.
Williams explained that Pierce College should expect to see an increase in enrollment in October because of late start classes.
He adds how 70 late start classes will be available in October for 8 weeks which will allow students to re-enroll for the Fall 2020 semester.
These late start classes are seen in other LACCD colleges as well such as LA Valley College, LA Mission College, and LA Harbor College. With these late start classes, enrollment is expected to increase but by how much is unknown at the moment.
“The Academic Affairs Office will look into which classes have more demand and offer those as late start classes,” Williams said.