ESL Department Works to Increase Program Enrollment Amidst Steep Budget Cuts
By Seamus Geoghegan
Collaborator to The Guardsman
After budget cuts were announced in the Spring 2020 semester, the English as a Second Language (ESL) department continues to fight for increased funding and awareness of their program at City College.
Chair of the ESL Department Gregory Keech has been working with the College for 30 years, and during that time hasn’t seen cuts such as the ones non-credit ESL classes have experienced. A 20 percent cut from the Spring 2020 semester resulted in programs disappearing and teachers losing jobs.
“It hit the program very hard, and it hit people’s livelihoods very hard,” Keech said. “For many of our newer and wonderful instructors, they’re not working here now.”
The Board of Trustees stated during their November board meeting that cuts were the result of under-enrolled programs, but Keech said he never got an explanation, “I mean, I have some guesses but I don’t think I ever really got an explanation other than that other programs are more important because they fit into the [California state] funding formula better.”
While under-enrollment may be a factor, Keech argues that the college could do better to get the word out about the ESL program. “We’ve been saying that there are over 100,000 people in San Francisco that describe themselves as limited English proficiency, and we’ve got 8,000 of them,” Keech said.
COVID-19 also had a noticeable impact on registration. Non-credit ESL has lost 50 percent of its enrollment over the course of the pandemic, which Keech credited partly to lack of outreach. “We made an effort to circle back and contact students that had been enrolled in Spring-20 and we weren’t seeing them on the class list for Fall-20,” Keech said. “And many said, ‘Are you open? You mean you’re open?’”
City College is making some steps to reach out to that demographic. “Chancellor Vurdien as part of his response came to an ESL town hall in the beginning of the semester and he said [he would] set aside some funding for [ESL] to have these faculty advisors and … some money for radio spots,” Keech said. “In the fall we ran radio advertisements in Spanish and Chinese. So that’s the right direction.”
Keech also talked about ESL’s move to expand their social media presence, starting with Facebook. The City College ESL department Facebook page highlights spots where in-person registration is available, along with other information for people interested in the program.
“One of the things that we find is that we can create community online,” Keech says. “It’s a different way of learning, but we have found that we can build community in the remote environment.”