California community colleges make up the largest higher education system in the United States -- but sometimes the system loses students or sees projected enrollment growth disappear. Those times almost always coincide with tuition increases, and data  released Thursday show that the pattern has continued the last two years -- potentially with a loss of 300,000 students who did not enroll.
Officially, California doesn't have tuition for public colleges, but the fees that are really tuition increased from $11 per credit in 2003-4 to $18 last year and to $26 this year.
From the fall of 2003 to the spring of 2005, head count in the system fell to 1,601,217 from 1,634,550. The larger estimated loss of 300,000 is calculated from earlier estimates, based on demographic trends and past enrollment patterns in periods when students' costs were not increasing.
System officials said that data from campuses indicated that a disproportionate share of the lost students were 25 or older or were just starting at a community college. Colleges found that there was not a notable difference by race or ethnicity in enrollment patterns, although many California community colleges enroll large percentages of minority students. System officials were also pleased that there was not much of a correlation between economic status and who didn't enroll, suggesting that additional financial aid funds are reaching students who need the assistance.
Mark Drummond, the chancellor of the system, has long advocated that tuition increases be modest and predictable, rather than the pattern of having no increases followed by steep ones. In a statement about the data, he said that they illustrated that "what both the system and its students need is budgetary stability and insulation from rapid fee increases."