The pandemic was terrible. But there was a silver lining for me and others like me—online classes.

When Fullerton College released the 2022 Spring schedule, it was a clear shift back to in-person, on-campus learning. You know, how things used to be in the old days. It’s a step towards normalcy and data suggests that in-person learning is more effective than online learning.

However, Fullerton College had 4,379 other reasons for bringing the majority of classes back to the campus. Enrollment in the Fall of 2019 was 23,087. By the fall of 2021, it dropped to 18,708. That is about a 19% decrease in students since the beginning of the pandemic.

While 19% isn’t good, it’s actually better than the national average. The U.S. Census Bureau data estimates that 30% of students in the U.S. canceled enrollment plans for fall 2021.

Will the move back to on-campus classes mean an increase in enrollment? Maybe. Vaccination mandates will undoubtedly play a role, how significant a role remains to be seen, and the situation appears to be evolving even now.

If in-person learning is better for the student and means higher enrollment, win/win, right? Not for all of us. Some of us simply can’t prioritize school over our jobs. Online classes allow us the flexibility to do both.

The one area of education that has seen increased enrollment during the pandemic is for-profit colleges. But, in a world where Fullerton College and other schools like it went almost entirely to online classes, why would anyone choose a for-profit school?

Well, for-profit schools spend a lot on marketing. According to research from the Brookings Institution, for-profit schools spent $400 per student in 2017 on marketing. Compared to just $14 per student spent by public colleges. In other words, many people just didn’t know it was an option.

For others though for-profit schools offer flexibility that places like Fullerton College just can’t guarantee.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a 2-year degree at a public institution was $10,950 in 2018-2019. At for-profit intuitions, that number was almost triple at $28,627.

Anecdotally as someone who has now done both, I can tell you Fullerton College was much less than that and provided me a far better education than the for-profit school I attended. On top of that, graduating from a for-profit school is just not something I lead a conversation with. But, conversely, I am proud to be a Hornet.

This is where the UC, CSU and California Community College systems should take notice. Keeping online options available to students could be the key to bringing enrollment back to pre-pandemic levels.

Selfishly I want Fullerton College to keep as many online options as possible because it means I have more flexibility. But I also believe it’s a successful path forward for California’s public colleges.

The good news is that Governor Newsom’s 2021-22 budget proposal called for California’s public colleges and universities to permanently increase online classes by at least 10% over pre-pandemic levels. Fullerton College has gone above and beyond that. In the fall of 2019, Fullerton College offered 16.4% of its classes online. Spring of 2022, it’s estimated that about 38% of classes will be offered online.

Percentage of the different types of classes offered at Fullerton College from Fall 2019 to Spring 2022. Data is accurate as of 11/9/2021.

Percentage of the different types of classes offered at Fullerton College from Fall 2019 to Spring 2022. Data is accurate as of 11/9/2021. Photo credit: Dustin Malek

It’s a big jump and a step in the right direction. I hope it stays that way so that even more people can share in the amazing experience that is Fullerton College.

Author profile

Dustin Malek (He/Him) is a Journalism major residing in Fullerton, Ca. In his free time, he enjoys hiking and riding his bike around town.