DVC sees enrollment rates decline in spring 2018


Classroom 110 in the Humanities Building at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill on February 8th, 2018. (Tyler Skolnick/DVC Inquirer)

Tyler Skolnick, Staff member

Diablo Valley College’s campus enrollment rates took a dip this spring semester, a trend that correlates with low unemployment rates in the county and state. The Pleasant Hill and San Ramon campuses both experienced declines, at 3.4 percent and 6.5 percent respectively.

This drop is certainly significant enough to raise concerns around what this means for the college going forward in 2018.

When one hears of a decline in enrollment, the initial question may be: where are potential students going instead? Though the sources of this phenomena are surrounded with speculation, historical trends may point out an answer.

In many cases in the past, particularly at the two-year institution level, unemployment rates tend to be a great predictor of enrollment rate trends. When data from both the Department of Labor Statistics and Digest of Education are compared, the spikes in community college enrollment and unemployment rates go hand in hand countrywide.

According to the same data, in the time period surrounding the Great Recession, percentage changes in unemployment and community college enrollment were positively correlated. The same phenomenon occurred from 1998-2003.

The vice president of instruction at DVC, Rachel Westlake, said, “When unemployment is low, people go out to get work, they don’t necessarily go to colleges.” This statement holds up true historically, and the current unemployment data suggest it is a potential cause for this semester’s drop.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California unemployment rate currently stands at 5.1 percent, while the Contra Costa County hovers more than one percent below that at 3.9 percent.

It is no secret that the cost of living is above average in California. When people, especially potential students, find work, they take it.

Educated communities are more prosperous communities, so what does the decline in enrollment mean for the future of helping more people reach their educational goals, here at DVC and Contra Costa County?

“We want to give access to students, if we’re not giving access to students, that’s a problem,” said Westlake.” But as much as that, we want those students that are with us to be able stay with us until they reach their educational goal. That’s where our focus is right now and where our focus has been for some time.”

The correlation between unemployment rates and enrollment seems to stand its ground in the current educational and economic climate. For students, it signals for the continued struggle for balance between work and school.