The district has emergency aid in place for students and rolled out an advertising campaign prioritizing resources.
By Sergio Medina
The enrollment numbers for the Alamo Colleges District rose by 0.8 percent, or 545 students, in the fall, compared to fall 2019 despite the pandemic.
Kristi Wyatt, vice chancellor of communications and engagement, presented the enrollment report from the Student Success Committee during the Jan. 26 regular meeting of the board of trustees via Zoom.
The district enrolled 68,319 students in the fall. Comparably, in fall 2019, the district enrolled 67,774 students.
The steady increase comes at a time when the national enrollment in associate-level institutions has decreased by about 9%, as reported by the National Student Clearinghouse.
Among 50 community colleges nationally, that translates to a decrease of about 63,000 students from 2019.
The drop in enrollment is predominantly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which sent students home for remote learning as a precaution against the surge of infections.
The district is operating under Level 5 risk to the Covid-19 pandemic, which requires 95-100% of students to attend classes remotely.
The district reevaluated its risk level Feb. 4 in accordance with local government guidelines. Wyatt said updates will be emailed to employees and students Feb. 8.
Wyatt said Jan. 27 that about 845 students districtwide are attending face-to-face classes. These students are part of courses that require in-person practicums, such as nursing.
As of Feb. 5, 180,386 cases have been reported in Bexar County, along with 2,186 deaths.
Meanwhile, the city of San Antonio is operating at a risk level of severe, the second highest rating.
The city reported almost a third of its total confirmed cases in the last 30 days.
On Feb. 5 alone, 1,724 new cases were logged.
The city guidelines for schools are a risk level of high, which recommends colleges and universities conduct classes virtually.
Since March, 238 Covid-19 cases have been reported among students, employees and vendors of the Alamo Colleges District.
However, only 35 of those people were reported to have been on-site at one point or another since the start of the pandemic.
“Of the 35, 29 of them had no contact with others on-site, and six people potentially had contact with others,” Wyatt said.
The committee also reported on the funds allocated for student emergency aid, from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, and a student impact fund.
The report included that the district granted $11.49 million in aid to 18,425 students, almost a third of total enrollment, since March from the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, passed by the federal government March 27.
In total, the district received $22.6 million from the CARES Act. Wyatt said the remaining $11.11 million were directed to institutional aid.
On average, that is about $624 distributed per student. Wyatt said the grants vary by case.
She said no money remains from the CARES Act funding, though more is expected from the federal government.
A second Covid-19 relief bill was passed by the Congress Dec. 27, which grants $82 billion for K-12 schools and colleges.
Wyatt said the amount of money the district will receive from the second stimulus package is not yet clear, but she “hopes” the district will receive that information in early February to present it during the next committee meeting Feb. 16.
Additionally, the district also implemented a student impact fund, funded by the Alamo Colleges Foundation, which has awarded $55,861 to 135 students since March. The district still has $253,138 available in this fund for needy students.
“Student emergency aid is absolutely still available to students,” Wyatt said.
The district had no districtwide student impact fund in place before the pandemic.
Student emergency aid is separate from the grants distributed by completing the FAFSA. However, students must be registered for FAFSA to be able to apply for emergency aid.
Students can learn how to apply by calling the Alamo Colleges advocacy helpline at 210-486-1111, or by going to the district’s website.
To further help students, the district also implemented laptop lending, wi-fi hotspots and advocacy support.
The request form for laptops at this college can be found here.
Also, the next pop-up food market at this college is 3-4 p.m. Feb. 11 in parking Lot 8, on West Courtland Place and Howard Street.
Dates on pop-up markets on other campuses and registration information can be found here.
Furthermore, to increase enrollment and retention, the district has rolled out an advertising campaign meant to encourage those pursuing an education. “You have what it takes!” or “Tu puedes!” in Spanish, a message that acknowledges the struggles students live day-to-day, Wyatt told the board Jan. 26.
“I think one of our key strategies as we began brainstorming for this campaign is that one, students understand that we’re open for business, and two, understanding that safety is a priority,” Wyatt said. “We shot the campaign with masks; we shot the campaign shots that included both students learning virtually and students learning on campus; and then, we also stressed all of the wrap-around services that we provide to students.”
She said extra emphasis was placed on said services because of the barriers the pandemic creates for students.
The TV spot can be viewed here.
Wyatt said the district spends about $300,000 per advertising campaign.
The campaign includes TV and radio spots, billboards, print and digital ads, such as social media posts, audio and streaming ads. These also include Spanish versions.
District 4 Trustee Lorraine Pulido said in an interview Jan. 27, “I like the messaging. I think it resonates with our community, both English-speaking community and our Spanish-speaking community.”
She said the emphasis placed on digital ads helps stay in touch with the times during the pandemic.
During the board meeting, Pulido suggested Wyatt include local print publications.
“I requested that they consider looking into the Southside Reporter and the Northeast Herald,” Pulido said. “Those are two very popular community publications here in San Antonio that were not part of their ad buys.”
Pulido also recommended Wyatt include analytics reports on the campaign for future board meetings to keep track of response, measuring the returns for the investments made. That way, the board can include these numbers in future semesters to create a strategy for funding that accommodates campaigns.
“But I also asked that we identify another way to also measure success,” Pulido said. “Is there a way to see if there’s a correlation between this campaign and enrollment?”
That would mean paying attention to enrollment spikes and visits to the district’s website, she added.
Wyatt told Pulido that the media quarterly report will be given to the board in February, which will include analytics and the final cost of the campaign.
Pulido said that the quick transition from in-person to remote learning, which has remained since March, has been one of the factors that led to the retention of students.
The absence of employee layoffs is another point of pride for the board, Pulido added.
“A lot of credit goes to our students, too, because it’s been an adjusting period for them as well,” she said. “We’re going to continue to ensure that we provide all the resources to our students.”