School.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College is preparing to have 1,500 fewer students during its spring semester as it continues to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic. 

The college served 5,500 students in the spring of 2020 as the coronavirus started spreading and currently has about 4,000 students enrolled for the spring of 2021.  

CGCC started its fall semester with a 22-percent drop in enrollment and, like most other community colleges in Maricopa County, hasn’t seen much improvement over the last few months. 

“The narrative hasn’t changed,” said Maricopa Community Colleges Provost Karla Fisher, “what we’re seeing nationally is what we’re seeing at Maricopa.” 

National data shows enrollment at community colleges has declined by 10 percent since the pandemic started and students are holding off on pursuing their education plans at twice the rate of students attending four-year universities. 

About 33 percent of prospective community college students have cited the coronavirus as the primary reason they’re hesitant to continue, according to the Community College Research Center.  

As of early December, Chandler-Gilbert had the biggest percentage drop in spring enrollment out of the 10 campuses in the Maricopa Community Colleges District. 

Only the Scottsdale, Gateway, and Rio Salado campuses have reported positive enrollment growth.  

Overall, the district’s seen a 15-percent decrease in enrollment and a 13-percent drop in the number of credit hours students plan to take in the spring. 

   Fisher said the 10 colleges have collectively managed to narrow the district’s enrollment gap by about nine percentage points through “herculean” marketing efforts deployed over the last couple months.  

The district could soon see another boost in enrollment, Fisher added, based on the 3-percent increase in applications for Federal Student Aid scholarships recently observed among the district’s prospective pupils.  

“Students that complete FAFSA are indicating to us they want to come to college and are seeking the resources to do so,” the provost said. 

In order to curtail the enrollment slide, the district plans to extend its deadline for dropping students from their classes for unpaid tuition fees. The district said this will allow students more time to sign up for a payment plan or seek additional financial aid.    

CGCC administrators hope the college’s enrollment will pick up as flex-start classes, which allow students to enroll at any time during a semester, become more widely available.  

Felicia Ramirez-Perez, the college’s dean of enrollment, said Chandler-Gilbert is attempting to be more accommodating and supportive to students who feel overwhelmed by the pandemic’s impacts.

“We know 2020 has been particularly challenging and saw many of our students step away from their academic goals with us earlier this year,” she said. “We completely understand the importance of evaluating what works best for them in this new environment.”

CGCC wants students to know the college wants to work with them on creating a schedule that fits with their current circumstances, Ramirez-Perez said. 

“Whether it is returning in spring, summer or fall, their next step might be one course rather than a full course load, and we are here to help them take that step,” she added. 

The majority of CGCC courses have shifted to online formats and only a handful are still being taught in-person. Some courses include a “live-online” option that allow students to interact with instructors and classmates virtually through applications like Zoom. 

According to surveys by the district, many students have indicated they’re waiting until in-person classes become available again before deciding to enroll or they don’t feel prepared to take an online course. 

Since the pandemic began, several new health protocols have been implemented throughout the CGCC campus that require visitors to wear masks, greater utilization of bigger classrooms, and restrict access to empty buildings.   

Jenna Kahl, the college’s vice president of community relations, said CGCC wants the public to feel safe when they come to the campus and the college will continue to make adjustments in order to minimize the risk of contracting the virus.  

“We hope our students feel welcomed and safe as we continue to keep their safety and education at the forefront of all we do,” Kahl said.