Enrollment Management in Very Challenging Times: What the LAO Says and What Faculty Should Do


There are some serious constraints on colleges today (which is not news) and everyone on campus feels the effects, especially from the budget reductions. From a state perspective, the potential effects on our system from an array of pressures and recommendations are pretty staggering. New laws will place new demands and restrictions on colleges. Serious reductions in offerings have caused a de facto shift of our mission and whom we serve. But here’s the message for academic senates: The very difficult dialogs---which classes to cut, which hours of services to reduce, which vacant positions to leave vacant, etc.--- should be decisions that involve faculty. Do they?

In January, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) released a policy brief called Prioritizing Course Enrollment at the Community Colleges (http://www.lao.ca.gov/laoapp/PubDetails.aspx?id=2392 ). It’s a short paper; I recommend you read it. While it is critical to remember that these are NOT adopted policies but rather recommendations to the legislature, it would be naïve to assume their ideas will not get serious attention. The author says, “Given limited resources, we believe that it is more important than ever for the state to target funds that best meet the state’s highest priorities for community college services. To accomplish this, we recommend the Legislature: (1) adopt statewide registration priorities that reflect the Master Plan’s primary objectives, (2) place a limit on the number of taxpayer-subsidized credit units that students may earn, and (3) restrict the number of times that a student may repeat physical education and other classes at taxpayers’ expense.”

The policy brief goes on to enumerate specific suggestions to the legislature, some of which could end up in new bills. For example, it suggests that the highest registration priority should be given to continuing students who are fully matriculated; the next priority should go to new students. It also recommends a 100-unit cap be placed on students, and students with more than 100 units would have to pay the full cost of their classes. Finally, the report recommends that state apportionment not be given for repetitions of any activity class (with the exception of athletics and adaptive PE). If any of these ideas end up in legislation, they would become a mandate.

As we wait for the potential outcomes in legislation, colleges are already taking steps to adjust their course offerings, as we have already needed to reduce the sections we offer. The requirement to reduce offerings raises the question: what are your processes for determining course priorities? Who is deciding which programs need more FTE for next term and which should be reduced?

The Academic Senate’s 2009 paper Enrollment Management Revisited provided suggestions to academic senates, and the situation we are in today and in the near future will be a test of each college’s policies. Where are your faculty?

A few excerpts from the paper:

  • Deciding how many sections of a given course should be offered in the next term as weighed against all the other courses in the college requires a well-informed and very collaborative team. (p. 33)
  • Given that curriculum is the most important function of a college and given that the curriculum is an area of faculty purview, all policies for determining which courses are offered must be made with the faculty front and center. . (p. 33)


    And from the Recommendations section are the following (pp. 35-6):


    In any enrollment management or scheduling procedures, general questions such as the following should be asked:

    • Who is making the decisions about scheduling classes, including delivery mode and length of the courses? What is the faculty role? Why are courses scheduled in a particular mode or time frame? Is the decision based on academic judgment?
    • Where and when are enrollment management and scheduling decisions made---in silos that do not communicate with one another, such as in administrator meetings and faculty department meetings separately? Or are decisions made in a concerted, thoughtful, data and policy-driven manner?
    • What class schedule produces the most success for students? The answer can vary for different populations of students and for different courses; only faculty can make the pedagogical determination. Local senates can make the case that because these questions are “academic and professional” in nature, they should fall to the senate per Title 5 regulations.
    • What effect on learning and student success might occur in any given scheduling scenario?


In the short term, we may have some new restrictions put on colleges in new legislation. And in March 2012, the Task Group on Student Success, a group established in January 2011 by SB 1143, will make its recommendations to the Board of Governors, which will include metrics for performance-based funding. Those recommendations will undoubtedly affect enrollment management priorities. So whether your college is modifying its schedule due to reduced allocation, due to any new legislation that springs from the LAO recommendations or due to the eventual SB 1143 task group recommendations, it makes sense to ensure that faculty participate fully in enrollment management decisions. These academic decisions are at the heart of who we are and what we provide.

“All curriculum is, at bottom, a statement a college makes about what it thinks is important.”

Cohen, A. & Brawer, F. (2003). The American community college, 4th edition (with F. B. Brawer). Jossey-Bass.