City College of San Francisco administrators are optimistic that the school's most aggressive marketing campaign to boost student enrollment to date has apparently helped slow the loss of students.
The embattled school, which has fought to save its accreditation for the past several years, pumped half a million dollars into television, radio and social-media spots, as well as billboards and transit shelter ads, through Jan. 12, the first day of the spring semester and the last day students could register for classes.
And two weeks into the spring semester, administrators believe that investment has led to CCSF boasting its lowest enrollment drop — 5.6 percent — since the open and accredited school was placed on show-cause status by its accreditor in 2012. That drop is compared to enrollment last spring. Overall, CCSF's enrollment is down 27 percent since spring of 2012.
"We really did a major push in terms of making direct personal contact, [especially with] students who had been at City College and dropped out," CCSF spokesman Jeff Hamilton said. "I think it made a real difference."
CCSF saw a 26 percent drop in enrollment last fall, leaving 77,000 students still enrolled. That drop was at least 10 percent worse than other California community colleges that experienced an average of 8 to 15 percent declines in enrollment.
Administrators noted that community colleges statewide tend to see enrollment drops as the economy improves and those who might have attended a community college instead find jobs.
"A lot of the community colleges around the state are down 8, 10, 12 percent and they don't have our accreditation issues," Hamilton said. "The fact that we're only down 5 percent is a minor miracle."
While administrators are gathering data to determine the exact impact of the extensive marketing campaign, such as calculating the click-through rates for email blasts sent to targeted students, it is too soon to tell exactly what is to credit for the lower enrollment drop.
The lower enrollment drop comes as two other seemingly positive pieces of news were sprung on CCSF this month. On Jan. 14, the school found out that it qualified for restoration status, a policy that gives it two more years to meet accrediting requirements.
The following week, a judge issued a favorable ruling in a case by the City Attorney's Office, claiming CCSF's accreditors unfairly attempted to strip the school of its accreditation in 2013.
Still, the school plans to continue such calculated marketing measures in the summer and fall semesters as well.
"It's an ongoing process of rebuilding our enrollment," Hamilton said.
As of Tuesday, CCSF has canceled 105 class sections due to low enrollment, affecting 522 students. The average enrollment in each of the classes was 5.1 students.
CCSF has been calling, emailing and mailing information to all affected students to help them find alternatives. For the 105 classes canceled, there are 486 alternative sections with 4,705 open slots.
Administrators noted that it is standard throughout the California community college system to cancel classes with fewer than 20 students.
"Between the budget challenges and the accreditation issues, we have to prudently and carefully look at our resources," Hamilton said.
Last semester, CCSF canceled 183 classes out of 3,200, affecting some 600 students.