City College of San Francisco has seen a decrease of 18 percent in the number of students enrolled in fall 2020 compared to last year. (

City College of San Francisco has seen a decrease of 18 percent in the number of students enrolled in fall 2020 compared to last year. (

SF State, CCSF report sharp drops in fall enrollment

Distance learning, pandemic prompt some students to opt out of classes

Two of San Francisco’s major colleges are facing a stark drop in enrollment this fall as students start classes online.

City College of San Francisco saw an 18 percent decrease between this semester and fall 2019, while San Francisco State University saw an 8 percent decrease in the same period.

University of San Francisco offered a general assessment that undergraduate enrollment is currently down a few percentage points from the same time last year, while graduate enrollment came in slightly more than expected. University of California San Francisco does not yet have enrollment numbers for its semester, which begins in September, while the University of California Hastings did not respond by press time.

Most final enrollment assessments will come next month after deadlines to add or drop classes, but the numbers thus far show an immediate decline in students since coronavirus upended in-person teaching.

City College had 24,558 students enrolled in for-credit classes in fall 2019, 22,300 enrolled in spring, and only 20,169 enrolled for this fall as of Thursday.

“Reports have attributed the industry-wide decline to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unique challenges some students face with distance learning,” said a City College spokesperson.

SF State went from 28,880 students enrolled in fall 2019 to 26,660 enrolled as of this week. About 88 percent of those enrolled are undergraduates and 12 percent graduate students, compared to 90 percent undergraduate and 10 percent graduate in 2019.

“Our current estimated enrollment is more optimistic than it was earlier in the summer, largely because of the high numbers of returning students,” said Kent Bravo, a spokesperson for SF State. “We are, however, aware that no university is immune to fluctuations during this unprecedented time. We are working diligently to minimize the pandemic’s impact on enrollment — now and in the future.”

International student enrollment at SF State saw a particularly big drop, from 2,261 enrolled in fall 2019 to 1,026 this semester.

In July, colleges scrambled to keep international students in the country after the Trump administration barred students on certain visas from remaining while taking online-only classes. The new federal rules came as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surged in California and in the country.

The California State University, University of California and California Community Colleges systems joined the flurry of lawsuits to stop the last-minute change, which Immigration and Customs Enforcement rescinded within a week.

Schools are also seeing sharp declines in other areas. The 4,500 students housing beds are usually in high demand at SF State, but only 364 students are living on campus this semester.

While the pandemic complicates the overall picture, higher education enrollment often increases during times of economic downturn, which also coincides with austerity measures.

“We are the linchpin for economic recovery,” said Dianna Gonzales, then-interim City College chancellor, in May. “When the recessions hit, that is when our enrollment grows. But that is when we are least funded.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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