Gavilan enrollment dips as economy strengthens

Gavilan College enrollments are continuing to decline, and the college blames a low unemployment rate and strong economy in south Santa Clara County for the drop.

The latest available numbers show that Gilroy-based Gavilan’s student count dropped from 11,744 in the 2016-17 year to 10,394 in the 2017-18 year.

Gavilan officials—who are planning the community college’s Centennial Celebration later this year—are not panicking due to what they call a “countercyclical” trend between its enrollment and the economy.

“When the economy is down—and there are fewer employment opportunities—enrollment goes up. People who have been laid off or can’t find work go back to school for more training,” explained Gavilan communications director Jan Bernstein-Chargin. “When the economy is strong and there are a lot of jobs, enrollment declines.”

According to Gavilan’s Educational Master Plan, which includes enrollment data prior to 2016, its enrollment increased 5.9 percent annually (53 percent overall) from 2000-2009. The annual unemployment rate in San Benito and Santa Clara counties climbed during that period and peaked in 2010 at 6.29 percent.

Data further showed that Gavilan’s enrollment decreased by 4.1 percent annually (25 percent overall) from 2010-2014 as the unemployment rate declined over those years.

In May 2018, local unemployment rates, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, were as followed: Gilroy (2.9 percent), Morgan Hill (2.5 percent), San Jose (2.3 percent) and Hollister (5.6 percent).

The economy is not the only factor, according to Bernstein-Chargin. State funding reductions and restrictions on the repeatability of classes offered also impact enrollment.

At Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County, enrollment has dropped by 31 percent since 2008, according to a report from The Cabrillo Voice.

Gavilan district voters showed some confidence in the viability of the local college, which serves the communities of Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister, by approving a $248 million bond measure in the November 2018 general election.

“The changes from Measure X will provide the capacity for growth in the future, and ensure that residents of all parts of our district have access to a college education,” Bernstein-Chargin said. “With the continued population growth in San Benito County, the development of the San Benito County campus will ensure that the college has the ability to grow to meet the needs of future generations.”

Gavilan’s future plans include the construction of a new San Benito satellite campus as well as upgrades to its main Gilroy campus and Coyote Valley location.

While local public schools—such as those in Gilroy and Morgan Hill Unified School Districts—are experiencing declining enrollment for reasons such as low birth rate and cost of living in the region, community colleges are not affected by those same factors. Declining enrollment reduces the Average Daily Attendance funding a local district receives and can have grave effects like in Gilroy where GUSD leaders may close an elementary school in 2020.

That is not the case in the state community college realm, where course fees remained consistent at $46 per unit over the last several years. Gavilan also offers a need-based registration program called Gavilan Promise where course fees are waived for qualifying students.

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