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Sierra College summer enrollment not slowing

John Orona
Staff Writer

By the numbers

As of June 2

Number of COVID-19 cases: 48

Number tested: 3,346

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 36

Number of active cases: 6

Number of recoveries: 41

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

Despite growing economic uncertainty and offering mostly online classes for the next two semesters, more students than ever are enrolling in summer classes at Sierra College.

The Rocklin-based school’s summer session enrollment has grown more than 80% since 2012, increasing from 4,306 students to 7,806 in 2018. According to Stephanie Ortiz, executive dean of Sierra College’s Nevada County Campus, this year is no exception, with the college continuing to see “strong growth.”

“Our summer schedules have been mainly online for many summers, and yet this summer we’re seeing enrolment growth that we haven’t seen in past summers,” Ortiz said.

While there are many possible theories for the growth, Ortiz said without firm survey data there was no way to tell.

During that time span distance learning enrollment has increased from 6,132 students in 2012 to 9,743 in 2018. It’s possible that students are feeling more comfortable with online classes, accounting for the uptick this summer, but more data is needed.

In fall 2018, retention and success rates for online classes, 68% and 82%, respectively, were the lowest of any instructional method, just behind hybrid classroom instruction.

“Some students are doing really well with this, others have real trouble with internet connectivity,” Ortiz said. “We just don’t have it quantified yet, it’s only anecdotal.”

Sierra College also has a free tuition program for full-time, first-time students, that they can opt-in to when registering. Other fees are still applicable.


The college is preparing to have mostly online classes in the fall, with the exception of some lab classes.

Instructors will be going through a five-week online training in how to teach online classes, which includes training in course design and online assessments. About 30% of instructors had never taught an online course when the school moved to internet-based classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ortiz said.

They are also moving their student services online, with resources students would normally receive at a student center available by telephone.

It’s also unclear whether this preparation will translate into enrollment during the fall semester, which between 2012 and 2018 remained more or less steady, at around 18,000 students.

However, during that period, fall enrollment in the school’s satellite campuses in Roseville and Grass Valley have declined by more than 64% and 26%, respectively.

The Nevada County Campus went from 2,244 students to just 1,643 in fall 2018. Enrollment at the Roseville Center, however, dropped most precipitously, going from 2,046 in 2012 to just 725 in 2018.

While the data available does not explain the drop, it does show the Nevada County Campus has a higher percentage of students who are either in high school or have already received a bachelor’s degree.

The second most common reason for students attending the Nevada County Campus was educational enrichment, while other campuses had either transferring or receiving an associate’s degree as the two most common answers. More noncredit classes are also taken at the Nevada County Campus.

Fall enrollment begins June 23 and the number of full-time equivalent students enrolled on the school’s census date, Sept. 8, will determine how much the state funds it the following year. In 2017-18, California community colleges were allocated $12,866 per full-time equivalent student.

Until enrollment numbers are in, the impact of COVID-19 and the surrounding economic uncertainty on Sierra College remains to be seen.

“The signals to schools, in general, have been prepare for a more difficult budget situation,” Ortiz said. “We just don’t have enough information yet.”


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To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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