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City College enrollment, finances on the upswing

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City College of San Francisco’s enrollment continues to climb and its finances are improving, according to college officials. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

While an enrollment boost at City College of San Francisco appears to have slowed slightly in the second year of a free tuition program, the college’s finances have continued to improve.

With a proposed operating budget of $185.5 million, City College has reduced its current year operating deficit from $25 million to $11 million in the past academic year, while preserving a required 5 percent budget reserve of $11 million, according to the college.

Following a decade-long enrollment slump, student enrollment numbers continue to climb — albeit ever so slightly — for the second consecutive year as the college enters its third semester of offering free tuition to San Francisco residents under its Free City program.

Classes resumed at the college last Monday and preliminary data placed a first day headcount for students taking credit courses at 26,609, up slightly from the 26,077 students counted at this time last year. Combined with non-credit classes, a tentative headcount places the college’s total enrollment at 46,500, up from last Fall’s 45,482 students.

State funding for community colleges is largely based on the calculation of full-time equivalent students, or FTES, at a school. Chancellor Mark Rocha has made it a goal of his tenure to restore state enrollment funding to the equivalent of 32,000 FTES at City College, where the near-loss of its accreditation in 2012 contributed to a significant plunge in enrollment and the funding tied to it.

City College spokeswoman Connie Chan said the college is projecting the Fall 2018 credit FTES to be “anywhere between 7,475 – 7,550, which would be about the range of 75-150 FTES more than Fall 2017.”

The proposed 2018-2019 budget projects an overall enrollment increase for the entire school year of 2,500 FTES. It also allows for an increase of over 200 classes, for a total of about 3,800 classes this fall, from the previous year.

“We have made tremendous progress in getting our financial house in order, thanks to the clear direction and support of the Board of Trustees,” said Rocha in a statement. “But we are not of the woods yet. We must continue to exercise budget discipline and to address structural issues in our financial condition.”

The district’s enrollment has been boosted in part by the Free City tuition subsidy program, which was implemented last Fall after San Francisco voters in 2016 approved an increase in a real estate transfer tax on commercial and residential properties to pay for it.

It is too soon to tell how many new students were attracted to the college this semester by the promise of free tuition. Last year, a September census revealed that total of 6,450 new students taking credit courses were enrolled at CCSF, up from 4,800 new students in the fall of 2016.

Despite the increases, low enrollment in certain classes has caused some cancellations. According to Chan, 177 classes were cancelled, 137 of them due to low enrollment.

Minimum enrollment to ensure a class’ survival is 20 students, said Chan.

Of the 70 credit English as a Second Language (ESL) classes that were scheduled for Fall 2018, 11 were cancelled, said Chan, adding that some 100 seats are still available in the remaining 59 ESL classes.

Prior to the first day of school, a total of 83 classes across various subjects were added, she said.

The proposed budget also includes a pay increase for teachers that was negotiated as part of a new collective bargaining agreement with City College’s faculty labor union, AFT 2121, in May.

Vice Chancellor Dianna Gonzalez, City College’s chief negotiator, said that the new three-year contracts will “raise faculty to the median of comparable community college districts in the Bay area.”

Changes made to the funding method for community colleges at the state level added an additional requirement tied to graduation rates and financial aid awards. In response to this shift, City College has geared toward offering courses enabling students to transfer to four-year institutions more quickly, with a special focus on raising graduation rates for African-American, Latino and Pacific Islander students.

The changes “drive what City College is doing with classes and programming,” said Chan.

October 22 will mark the launch of City College Online, which is expected to increase the college’s class offerings with a hybrid of online and in-classroom courses.

Structural issues facing City College are the deferred maintenance of building and grounds and the need to replace antiquated instructional equipment in science, technology and engineering, according to college officials.

The proposed budget also earmarks available bond funds to finalize the design of the approved Performing Arts and Education Center, slated to rise at the college’s main campus at 50 Phelan Ave.

A final budget for the 2018-19 academic year — developed for the first time through a budget committee comprised of faculty, staff, student and administrators — will come before the college’s Board of Trustees for approval on Thursday.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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