Santa Barbara City College is projecting a drop in out-of-state students and international students this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, SBCC Superintendent/President Utpal Goswami said Thursday.

Santa Barbara City College Superintendent/President Utpal Goswami

Santa Barbara City College Superintendent/President Utpal Goswami speaks during the “COVID Conversations” event held Thursday via Zoom and presented by the Santa Barbara City College Foundation. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The college is bracing for a roughly 30 percent decline in non-California resident enrollment, especially students from outside the United States, Goswami said.

“A number of our international students are planning to take classes from their home country,” Goswami said. “We will have to see in the next two to three weeks to see whether or not the enrollment happens.”

SBCC officials are watching the nonresident numbers carefully, Goswami said. 

For the 2019-20 school year, international students made up 18 percent of SBCC’s student population.

To date, SBCC officials are anticipating no growth in the total number of in-state students. California resident enrollment has been “creeping up” since SBCC began open registration last week.

“We will be pretty much at our capacity,” Goswami said. “We will pretty much stay level or maybe a few additional students. If we don’t hit our target exactly in resident students — because of our three-year averaging — it is not a huge impact at the college.”

Goswami offered his remarks during a virtual event titled “COVID Conversations” presented by the Santa Barbara City College Foundation. More than 100 viewers tuned in to nearly an hourlong forum and question-and-answer session with Goswami.

Geoff Green, CEO of the SBCC Foundation, served as the moderator.

SBCC peaked in enrollment 10 to 11 years ago in wake of the last recession, Green said.

“We have been declining ever since,” Green said. “It has a budget impact and also has a community impact with respect to housing and other things that are intertwined with a college size, and yet, folks may not realize we are about 30 percent smaller now than we were then.”

In addition to enrollment trends, Goswami spoke of COVID-19’s continuing impact on higher education, SBCC’s fall semester plan and the college’s budget for the 2020-21 academic year.

“It’s not as bad as it could have been,” Goswami said of SBCC’s budget. “But, it certainly is tight.” 

The college’s budget constraints are related to two reasons: declining revenue from the State of California and lost revenue because of nonresident student tuition.

At one point, Goswami said, the college predicted a deficit of up to $10 million.

“That, thankfully, has been averted because of the agreement that was reached between the legislator and governor (Gavin Newsom),” Goswami said. 

SBCC is expecting about a $2.3 million deficit in the tentative budget for the 2020-21 year, Goswami said, adding that the college incurred added expenses because of the coronavirus. 

Some of the coronavirus-related expenditures will be covered by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law in March and a block grant from the State of California, according to Goswami.

“That has helped our budget picture a little bit from the terrible to we can ride this out, and utilize our reserves in a prudent way,” Goswami said. 

In spite of declining revenue, Goswami said, SBCC made significant headway in terms of reducing its deficit. SBCC’s adopted budget includes about a $4.7 million deficit for the 2019-20 year, Goswami said.

Goswami made a commitment to try to bring the budget to balance when he shared a five-year budget projection to the SBCC board of trustees.

“We are looking at one more year of deficit,” he told viewers.

The college plans for hybrid instruction in the fall, with almost 85 percent of the classes online and 15 percent of the courses face to face. Fall semester classes start Aug. 24 at SBCC.

“We could have done a whole lot more in terms of face-to-face classes, but there is a cost to it in maintaining social distancing and our classes would become smaller,” Goswami said. “Costs add up pretty quickly, so we had to balance the fiscal part of it with the student need part of it.” 

Goswami took the helm of SBCC in January after a nationwide search. A screening committee — made up of community members and campus constituency groups — recommended Goswami, who was one of two finalists

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.