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Cabrillo College kicks off fall 2022 semester with enrollment growth, new initiatives

Presented by Cabrillo College
cabrillo college fall semester header
(Tarmo Hannula / The Pajaronian)

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, enrollment is up at Cabrillo College and the fall semester is in full swing. Officials say enrollment has increased 1.5% – a positive sign of recovery and a higher rate than what other community colleges in California are seeing.

“We’re really coming out of it. Of particular note is that enrollment is up for our introductory math and English courses.”

— Matt Wetstein, President of Cabrillo College

cabrillo college students back to school
(Cabrillo College / Instagram)

That’s important because it indicates that more students are now coming to Cabrillo College right out of high school once again– an important segment of the student body. And it’s just one positive sign that has college officials enthusiastic about the new school year and the chance to rebound after a couple of extremely challenging years. Supporting students with more services to encourage enrollment and help them succeed in their coursework continues to guide officials and is the overarching theme of the 2022-2023 academic year.

Expanded childcare services

Among the developments for the new school year are efforts to expand the child care services offered on campus. A recently awarded $970,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support the Cabrillo College Children’s Center and Lab School, which has been in operation for over four decades, to offer expanded services to more eligible children. The program currently offers part-day early care and education services for children ages six months to 5 years old, as well as some extended day child care services, in alignment with the Cabrillo College Academic calendar.

More access to child care means more parents in school. The new funding will be supporting students directly.

— Matt Wetstein, Cabrillo College President

Being able to expand these services to more parents who attend classes at Cabrillo is “a huge need,” said Wetstein. “More access to child care means more parents in school. The new funding will be supporting students directly.”

Building more inclusivity

Supporting the student body through programs aimed at building more inclusivity and promoting diversity is another major goal for the new school year. Cabrillo College recently held HSI Week, celebrating the college’s designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). The U.S. Department of Education defines HSIs as a higher education institution with an enrollment of undergraduate full-time students that’s at least 25% Hispanic.

cabrillo stem mural
Engineering Tree Mural at the Cabrillo College STEM building
(Cabrillo College)

The week’s events included presentations on topics such as Chicano murals and Chicano communism, special luncheons, and guest speakers from the community, including Watsonville City Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia and recently retired Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar, the county’s first Latino superior court judge. Other events, which were held on both the Watsonville and Aptos campuses, included special luncheons, a movie night in conjunction with the Watsonville Film Festival and dedication of a new mural at the STEAM building.

Alicia Garcia Bencomo, Cabrillo College's first full-time Ethnic Studies professor
(Cabrillo College)

The school has also launched the Umoja Community for the 2022-2023 school year, a program designed to assist African-American and other historically underrepresented students - with a specific goal to increase the retention, success, graduation and transfer rates of African ancestry students, Umoja means “unity” in Kiswahili.

Another exciting development for the new school year is the college’s first full-time ethnic studies professor, Alicia Bencomo Garcia. While sociology and English instructors have been teaching ethnic studies courses for years at Cabrillo, Bencomo Garcia’s hiring marks the first dedicated full-time ethnic studies professor. And the program will continue to expand, all in the effort to continue fostering more diversity and improving accessibility, according to college officials.

A focus on the arts of all kinds

cabrillo college student portrait
(Cabrillo College)

The new mural at the STEAM building is just the start of campus beautification efforts, Wetstein said. The college currently has a fund allocated towards development of at least one, possibly two, new murals on campus, including one at the Office of Student Equity.

Meanwhile, enrollment in art, music and dance courses are up this semester, an exciting development after two-plus years of the pandemic. “We’re really seeing this come back this year,” said Wetstein, noting that Cabrillo is home to world-class visual and performing arts facilities, including Crocker Theater.

And in other art news – the culinary arts, that is – Pino Alto, the school’s on campus restaurant, has returned to lunch operations after more than two years of pandemic-related disruptions. The restaurant is fully operated by students from the Culinary Arts department, who not only prepare the food but also serve in all of the front-of-house roles.

Students get first-hand experience working in a restaurant, which is a fantastic workforce opportunity. The restaurant is now open to the public for lunch Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Touchdown to a new semester

Cabrillo College trustees are set to decide in May whether to reinstate the suspended football program.
(Cabrillo College / Contributed)

The 2022-2023 school year also saw the return of the Cabrillo football program after a two-year hiatus – and the team’s already scoring some major victories. There’s a new coach in charge - Justin Hansen - and he’s working with a team composed largely of players who graduated from local high schools. “The program has shown a major restart and it’s been successful,” Wetstein said.

In fact, a “major restart” is the recurring theme for the new semester at Cabrillo, as students and faculty kick off the school year with renewed energy. And Wetstein and his team are focused on keeping that energy going and making Cabrillo College even more accessible for more students – working with officials from community colleges around the state to reduce textbook costs, increase student aid packages, establish student housing and many more initiatives.