Enrollment at BC has increased in big numbers

AK Pachla, Reporter

It’s no news to anyone that the number of students on the Bakersfield College campus is on the rise. In late August, Bakersfield College president Sonya Christian was invited to speak before the Bakersfield Rotary Club about the future of BC, where she spoke about the challenges of rising enrollment.

In Fall 2011, there were 16,747 enrolled students at the BC Panorama Campus. Today, four years later, there are 19,210.

“I can feel the fact that there are more students,” said Paula Parks, English professor and African-American Success Through Excellence and Persistence program coordinator.

Sue Vaughn, director of enrollment services, agreed with Parks but pointed out that not every student is going to the Panorama Campus. Some are online, some are downtown at the Weill Institute, some are in high schools, and some are even in rented facilities around Bakersfield.

Student Jalae Johnson outright said BC “doesn’t need any more students,” and asked, “Do you think you can fit any more?”

Vaughn said yes, and said BC is in the unique position of being a growing school in a growing area with a great need for education. The challenge lies in involving the community and providing educational services in the places where they will do the most good.

Librarian Sondra Keckley is also concerned about the tight quarters on campus. “Every desk, every computer is always full.”

“We’ve had land for a long time,” Vaughn replies, “but the land is way out in the northwest and way out in the south. That’s not where the needs are.”

There is a danger in spreading BC resources too thin. A school can have all of the rooms in the world, but the thing that makes them classrooms is faculty, and hiring qualified instructors is a painstaking process.

The need for more staff goes beyond faculty and into operations. Panorama Grill’s chef Eric Sabella sees the increase in students from a business perspective – more customers. However, without additional staff to support the increase in business, Sabella is concerned about service and quality being compromised.

Vaughn shares those concerns but describes a Catch-22 in terms of funding. The current increase in community and high school outreach and preregistration programs has been funded by a state grant focused on increasing successful student outcomes.

The trick is that the grant is based on need. Before BC can be granted money to expand operations, it must first reach the very limit and be forced to turn prospective students away, a situation BC was in as recently as 2005. “This is one of those chicken and egg situations,” said Vaughn.

The biggest concern on campus, to both students and faculty, is students not being able to get into the classes they need. Classes, especially in the physical sciences, fill early and competition to hold one’s spot is rough, with professors locking doors a minute in and dropping students without warning.

Vaughn, as director of enrollment services, keeps a close eye on enrollment patterns, class sizes, and student outcomes. Here, she expresses hope. “I received a lot fewer phone calls this year from students who couldn’t get into the classes they needed, and I got them much later in the enrollment process than I used to.”

For students looking to be proactive, Vaughn said there are bond issues coming up on state ballots both this fall and in the future that will directly affect how much money comes into BC for improvements and hiring. Registering to vote and participating in the process is an important thing students can do.

Vaughn also said students could be more flexible in how their week looks.

“We could run a full schedule; Monday – Wednesday, Tuesday – Thursday, and Friday – Saturday,” said Vaughn.

BC already offers some Friday and Saturday classes, but if more students showed an interest, more classes could be added on those days.

Another important thing students who want to see the improvements continue here is simply keep going to class. Keep registering, keep showing up, and keep doing the work. Prove to the administration, the community, and the state that what BC does is important and useful by taking advantage of every opportunity.

“You know that sign out in the (administration building) lobby that says ‘It’s a Great Time to be at BC’..?” Vaughn said, with a smile, “… yeah.”