How Lower Enrollments Are Impacting Life for Adjunct Professors


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If you entered the DVC Commons anytime during most of the pandemic, you wouldn’t find much going on. Generally, no more than a few dozen people filled the area at any given time; it was evident that most students had either moved online or stopped enrolling at DVC entirely.

But now, for the first time since the campus closed down in March 2020, you’ll regularly see a vivacious crowd spread out across the area, studying, chatting, walking around and bringing back the physical community that vanished with the pandemic.

The data reflects this change as well. The overall student fill rate this semester stands at 85 percent, compared to 72 percent in the Fall 2021 semester. Nonetheless, though an increase in students means more classes have returned to the curriculum, some professors still see their sections being canceled due to low enrollments.

Katherine Graham, an adjunct history professor at DVC for more than 20 years, said one of her three scheduled classes got canceled a couple of weeks before the semester started in August.

For her, that meant a third of her income, simply gone. Graham isn’t struggling to make ends meet. She describes herself as retired, and is still teaching out of love for pedagogy and history.

But she still found the administration’s decision to cancel her class premature, since it happened four weeks before the semester started. Graham said she finds that most DVC students enroll during the final week before the semester.

“I think there’s a problem and that is that kids today don’t have some spreadsheet where they sit down, and they plan their life, months in advance,” Graham told The Inquirer. “So they’re enrolling for classes kind of at the last minute.”

Different departments at the college seem to be affected differently. Felicia Perez, a psychology professor who has been working at DVC for 10 years, says she hasn’t lost any classes this semester.

“In the beginning they did cancel some classes,” said Perez, speaking about the overall number of sections being offered.

“From what I’ve heard, psychology is a department where enrollment isn’t an issue. There’s still a lot of people enrolling,” she added.

Yet even as her courses remain unaffected at DVC, Perez said she lost one of the three classes she teaches at Chabot College.

John Freytag, President of the Academic Senate at DVC, said the school’s administration has been allowing more low-enrolled sections to run in an effort to keep more professors’ classes from being canceled.

In general, a class that fits 40 students needs to enroll at least half that many in order to stay open for the semester. With the new protocols in place, some sections have been running with as few as 15 students – and sometimes even less.

“We’re looking to not only meet our students’ scheduling demands, but we’d love to grow our enrollments back to [their levels] before the pandemic,” said Freytag.

While admissions overall are back on the rise, professors like Graham still feel the impact of the pandemic in their classes.

“That’s the thing that I don’t understand,” said Graham.

“It’s like, where is everybody? Are people really afraid because of the pandemic to come back to classes? Or have they just learned it’s more fun to study in pajamas than it is to come to school?”