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Steady Sac State enrollment bucks pandemic-era trend

Returning to the residence halls, many students went through testing for the COVID-19 virus as part of University safety measures. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Despite the many challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose, Sacramento State’s enrollment is holding steady this spring.

About 29,300 Hornets will pursue their degrees during the Spring 2021 semester, just short of the University’s record enrollment a year ago, said Ed Mills, vice president for Student Affairs and Sac State’s chief enrollment officer.

Colleges and universities across the country have seen enrollment plunge since March 2020, when campuses converted to online teaching and students and faculty retreated to their homes in an effort to stem spread of the virus. The University, however, seems to be bucking that trend, owing to the apparent resilience of Sac State students and concerted efforts to enroll and retain them.

students wait in line outside
One of the new realities for many returning students who will be on campus is COVID-19 testing, which began the day before classes resumed in late January. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Returning to the residence halls, many students went through testing for the COVID-19 virus as part of University safety measures. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

“This is a true testament to our students and their dedication to their academic goals,” Mills said. “Sacramento State continues to be a destination campus for high school and community college students throughout the state.”

The Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and Bursar’s offices worked in recent weeks to connect with students who appeared to be at risk of dropping out this spring, Mills said. They asked students about obstacles to continuing their studies and offered encouragement and resources. Based on the preliminary enrollment figures, the effort appears to have paid off.

As a second full semester of mostly virtual courses begins, Sac State has put measures in place to protect the campus community from the virus while offering the best learning environment possible.

Faculty members and students appear to be adapting to distance learning, said the University’s graduation czar, James Dragna. Over the summer, many faculty members attended a “boot camp” to improve their online teaching skills, he said. Student grade-point averages and course loads have held steady during the pandemic.

“I cannot begin to say how impressed I have been with what our students have continued to overcome during these difficult months. I believe that overcoming all of these challenges has prepared our students for future careers in a way that you cannot gain from the classroom alone.”

“What we are experiencing with the pandemic is complicated, to say the least,” Dragna said. “We will need to look closely at the ways in which the virtual environment has affected our students.”

Nevertheless, despite unprecedented circumstances, “our students are continuing to stay on track,” he said.

For the spring semester, Sac State is continuing to take a safety-first approach to containing the coronavirus, administrators said. Most members of the Hornet community will be teaching, studying, and working from home, and those on campus must wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

The University is conducting COVID testing for students who live in residence halls, student athletes, campus safety officers, and student ambassadors. Testing also will be available for the limited number of students who need to be on campus for face-to-face courses, laboratories, and other academic needs.

The campus also has become a vaccination site for students, faculty and staff, providing shots by appointment only to members of the Hornet Family in accordance with California and Sacramento County guidelines. 

Associated Students Inc. President Noah Marty said life has been “exceptionally difficult” for many students in recent months, particularly those who struggle to meet basic needs such as food and internet services.

“Even with the challenges, our students have persevered,” Marty said. “Our student body is dedicated to getting through this, and I’m confident that we will.”

Spring enrollment figures demonstrate that “students recognize the high value of a degree at Sacramento State,” he said.

“I cannot begin to say how impressed I have been with what our students have continued to overcome during these difficult months,” he said. “I believe that overcoming all of these challenges has prepared our students for future careers in a way that you cannot gain from the classroom alone.”

Marty is on pace to earn his Political Science degree this spring, and said he looks forward to returning to Sac State at a time when “the campus is full of students” again.

“Though it certainly has been difficult since things dramatically changed in March 2020, I think we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Marty said. “I remain very optimistic.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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