Strategic planning and innovative student support cited as keys to success

Students find the single building BCC campus, located at 2050 Center Street in Berkeley, convenient yet it limits the programs the colleges can offer. An additional building on Milvia Street should open within 2 years. (Source: Gordon Architectural and Engineered Solutions)

November 13, 2020

By David Rowe, Copy Editor/Staff Writer

While overall fall enrollment in the Peralta district dropped a startling 17 percent, Berkeley City College (BCC) defied that trend showing a 7.3 percent increase in students and a more modest 6.8 percent drop in enrollment, according to figures Siri Brown, vice chancellor of academic affairs and student success, shared with the board of trustees during the September 29 meeting.

BCC was founded in 1974 as the Berkeley Learning Pavilion. It currently has an enrollment of 12,500, according to Brown, at its one-building campus located at 2050 Center Street in Berkeley.

BCC’s standout fall 2020 performance is not a fluke. During Brown’s spring 2020 enrollment report delivered to the board at its January 7 meeting, BCC achieved a 12.2 percent increase in enrollment compared to declines at the other three Peralta colleges. 

Angelica Garcia, president of Berkeley City College, inherited a strong strategic enrollment plan when she started 6 months ago and has expanded successful programs such as “stackable” certificates, dual enrollment and non-credit classes. (Source: BCC website)

To find the secret to BCC’s success, The Citizen spoke with Angelica Garcia, the college’s president since May of this year. Prior to BCC, Garcia was the vice president of student services at Skyline College in San Bruno. 

Since online instruction was already underway when Garcia joined BCC, she has spent limited time on campus engaged in face-to-face meetings.

Garcia observed that enrollment is a “mix of art and science” and requires carefully balancing courses of interest to students and those the faculty want to teach. 

She points to a solid foundation of strategic planning her colleagues created in 2018. Known as the Integrated Strategic Enrollment Management Plan (ISEMP), the document outlines seven “broad goals” one of which is to “meet and exceed college enrollment…goals by increasing student success, retention, persistence, and completion.”

Garcia also cited three specific areas that she believes contributed to BCC’s success. These include dual enrollment (where high school students are able to take college-level classes), non-credit classes (which include English as a Second Language and short-term vocational and workforce preparation classes), and BCC’s historically high transfer rates to the UC and CSU systems. Brown’s report showed steady increases in both dual enrollment and non-credit students at BCC in each of the past five years. With reference to its enviable transfer rate, Brown notes that BCC “leads the way” and “serves as a state leader in this area.”

Siri Brown, vice chancellor of academic affairs and student success, tracks and analyzes enrollment trends for the district and shares her findings with the board of trustees. (Source: Merritt College website)

Garcia also takes pride in what she calls “stackable certificate” programs. In disciplines such as public health, a BCC student can earn a “first-level certificate” to assist with their employment skills. That same student can then earn additional certificates at a second or third level. The stacking approach, Garcia explained, enables students to move “at the pace they want to go” and does not require them to “wait till the very end to let their employer know they have this skill set.” 

The stacking certificate program has been so popular, according to Garcia, that BCC immediately had a waiting list and had to add additional cohorts. 

As a one-building campus, Garcia points out that BCC must be more mindful and strategic in the classes it offers. “We don’t have that extra building or wing” to add programs, she explains. Garcia will have a bit more flexibility in that regard when BCC opens a second building on Milvia Street in about two years. One of the college’s more popular programs is Multimedia Arts (MMR) which partners with companies like Pixar. 

The Citizen also spoke with John Nguyen, the director of student activities & campus life at BCC. Nguyen, who joined BCC in August of last year, is a product of the California Community College system, having attended Evergreen Valley College in San Jose before transferring to UC Berkeley and earning a Master’s Degree at University of the Pacific. 

Nguyen enthusiastically shared details of the chat feature he incorporated into the BCC website. The chat feature, which is available Monday-Friday from 8:30 am-5 pm, is manned by students, also known as ambassadors. BCC also uses chat to provide assistance from librarians and financial aid experts. 

John Nguyen, Director of Student Activities & Campus Life, looks for new and innovative ways to support students such as an interactive chat feature on the BCC website. (Source: BCC website)

The Citizen used the chat feature to communicate with a BCC biology student who asked to remain anonymous. When asked what appealed to her about BCC, she cited “the fact that everything is easy to find on campus and the staff members are supportive.”  She also mentioned student learning communities as a plus.

Since the transition to online education, Nguyen has made heavy use of the Zoom platform.  Prior to the start of the fall semester, he conducted Zoom workshops providing instruction on enrollment, registration, and payment for both new and continuing students.  In terms of campus activities, Nguyen uses Zoom for current event trivia contests.  Many of BCC’s student clubs and organizations also use Zoom for their meetings. 

BCC’s success in better managing its enrollment seems to be the result of a combination of factors including a comprehensive strategic plan and designing classes and programs to better meet student needs.