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Merced College sees fall in Los Banos enrollment

Spring enrollment at Merced College Los Banos decreased about 7 percent from the same time last year.

The college conducted a census this week, which is typical of the fourth week of the semester, said Dean Brenda Latham.

"We're definitely experiencing a drop in student enrollment," Latham said. "We think that that could be due to changes in financial aid regulations."

Community colleges statewide have changed some policies regarding financial aid, spurred by budget cuts. Students are required to show progress, repeat classes fewer times and stay closer to their majors when selecting courses. The initiatives are meant to ensure tax dollars are efficiently used, Latham said.

The preliminary census shows a full-time equivalent student enrollment of 447 students this spring, down from 481 last year and 511 the year before. Full-time equivalent students, or those taking a 12-unit load, inform state funding.

Full-time equivalent enrollment has held steady around 1,300 per year for the past three, Latham said. "I expect that we'll be down this year," she said.

Latham said she canceled classes in response to the decrease. Most of the cancellations were for classes with multiple sections, such as English and math.

"In the last few years, I've not canceled hardly any classes," Latham said. "This time I did have to condense course offerings."

As courses are canceled, there are fewer spaces for part-time instructors. The college has about one full-time equivalent instructor more this spring than last year, but about one and a half fewer adjunct.

Merced College's main campus reported a dip of almost 5 percent in enrollment last month.

Anne Newins, vice president of student personnel at Merced College, said fewer financial aid dollars were a factor.

"We had a drop in the number of students receiving financial aid, so that's probably a piece of it," she said last month.

The main campus canceled about 50 classes.

California community colleges are aligning curriculum with the California State University system, so students can more smoothly transfer as juniors.

Merced College Los Banos offered a film appreciation course this semester that long was absent, Latham said. Offered for the first time is a calculus class.

Latham said the campus will begin offering an associate degree program for history in the fall. Along with the degree comes a class in black history, which completes the program's offerings and fulfills the CSU requirement for a multicultural course.

"I'm excited about that," Latham said. "The more degrees we can offer here, the better."