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The masks are off. The cafeteria in the 1600 Building is again filled with students gnawing away at sandwiches and pizza, all the while focused on their screens. Outside tables are inhabited by students writing papers and calculating algebra, working peacefully in the fresh air. During peak hours, the quad is again bubbling: people in transit, pop-up events for students and time-killers enjoying the landscaped scenery.

Four years ago, Las Positas College’s idyllic campus was a ghost town, emptied out by COVID-19. But, lately, life is closer to normal than it’s been in a while.

While Las Positas enrollment hasn’t quite gotten back up to its pre-pandemic levels, it’s surging nonetheless. The strategies that have been employed to replenish the classrooms are producing fruit. 

According to EdSource, the Chancellor of California Community Colleges, Sonya Christian, announced on Feb. 21 that California Community Colleges experienced an increase of enrollment during the fall 2023 semester. Across the state, enrollment has reached two million for the first time in half a decade. This statewide swell was felt at Las Positas, where registration has increased at a rate twice the pace of the state. 

Christian identified the enrollment of traditionally underrepresented communities as a significant factor in last semester’s increase.

“Even more encouraging is some of our strongest enrollment growth has been in students from groups historically underrepresented in higher education,” Christian said while addressing the state Assembly’s budget subcommittee on education finance last month. “Our Black students, our Latino students, students with disabilities and students aged 35 and older.”

Nicole Smith, a Chief Economist and Research Professor at Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said in a report that there are a growing number of mid-level skill jobs and opportunities, particularly relating to infrastructure.

“If the number of people who are enrolled in community college declines again, that’s worrisome because we might have less and less people who are available for sub-baccalaureate, post-high school types of jobs in healthcare, food, personal services, truck driving and production,” Smith said, addressing the decrease in community college enrollment excluding 2023.

During the 2019-20 academic year, nearly 2.1 million students were enrolled within California’s Community College system of 116 schools, per the Chancellor’s Office. The pandemic knocked that number closer to 1.8 million for the 2021-22 school year.

Las Positas experienced a similar drop. The fall of 2019, according to official school data, saw 9,061 students enrolled. The spiral didn’t fully bottom out until the spring of 2022, when records show 6,525 students were enrolled. The last time the school’s enrollment was so low was during the spring 1997 semester, which saw enrollment of 6,114. LPC’s peak matriculation was in the fall of 2009. That school year, enrollment topped 13,000 for the first and only time in the school’s history.

Heading into the 2023-24 academic year, a stream of over 100,000 more students enrolled in California Community Colleges. That was a 5.3% increase in one semester. At the same time, LPC’s enrollment jumped 11.4% to 7,607 in fall 2023.

Dyrell Foster, LPC’s President, explained some of the factors he is attributing to the increase.

“The fact that we were ranked the number one community college in California, I think, has helped,” Foster said. “Because of our experience through COVID-19, we were very intentional about wanting folks to get back on campus. We started to add more in-person classes with the hope that students would show up, and they have. So, I feel really good about that.”

Other actions taken by the school included opening counseling services so students have the resources to make sure what classes they need to take to get their degree in a timely manner. There are also new facilities on campus such as the Tutoring Center and an expansion of the library. LPC has also been doing a good job marketing itself to the community, according to Foster.

Foster said that while getting new students is great, the school is more focused on student retention.

“By supporting all of you during your experience at LPC,” Foster said, “you’re going to tell somebody, they’re going to trust you, and then they’re going to want to come. That is really what it’s about, making sure you all have a great experience so that you can be our best advocates and our ambassadors out in the community.”

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