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CoA Puts the ‘Community’ in Community College

The new Fall 2023 semester at the College of Alameda (CoA) presents a multitude of opportunities for new beginnings.

Antwa Rodriguez, who moved to the Bay Area from Bakersfield this year after finishing high school, chose to enroll at CoA to take advantage of its Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) program.

Alameda Post - College of Alameda
College of Alameda. Photo courtesy Peralta Colleges / Faiza Ali.

“The professors work with you,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s a hard program, but they help guide you toward a future in aviation.”

Students like Rodriguez are benefitting from the “Fall is Free” program offered this semester at all four Peralta Colleges campuses, including Berkeley City College, Laney College, Merritt College, and CoA. To qualify for “Fall is Free,” students must be a California resident and complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or an AB540 student and complete a Dream Act application. For qualified students, all Fall 2023 fees will be paid or waived, including the student enrollment fee, parking fees, and other student and campus use fees.

“This is the best I’ve done in school!” exclaimed Jeremiah Poti, a Bay Area native who decided to resume college classes last year. “All of the things that used to stress me out before aren’t around anymore,” adding that “Fall is Free” and CoA’s student resources have allowed him to focus instead on academics.

“It’s been a lot of help. I use the money saved to pay rent and bills,” added Rodriguez.

Julie Deap, a fourth semester student who is recently divorced, says that this fall is a game-changer. “I’ll maybe have another chance to follow my own goals.” Another student, Sandra Wanjala, agreed with Deap, noting that “Fall is Free” is her chance to get a fresh start. She enrolled in 18 units this semester in an effort to jump start her educational journey in the United States after moving from Kenya.

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Deap (left) and Poti (middle) assisting students and answering questions at the “A” building. Photo Ken Der.

Dr. Diana Bajrami beamed with pride as she watched her students discuss their educational journeys. Having held numerous faculty positions at CoA since 2001, including professor of economics for more than 20 years, Dr. Bajrami was appointed Acting President in September 2022. To kick off Fall 2023, she worked to organize an enrollment festival and student meet-and-greets—“Pancakes with the President” and “Fiesta with Faculty”—with great success.

“There were lines out the door of people waiting to enroll, families with their children. It felt like the good old days!” Bajrami recalled.

Indeed, the pandemic’s lingering effects on post-secondary education are still present at CoA. Just 35% to 40% of classes are offered in-person on campus, and in particular lab sections for STEM courses. The rest are a mix of hybrid and online classes to maintain flexibility for students.

But Bajrami laid out a clear path ahead for CoA amidst the crossroads. The opening of CoA’s new Liberal Arts “H” Building in late 2020 was the first in a series of capital investments intended to modernize the campus. Currently under construction along Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway is a new consolidated facility that will house the Auto and Diesel Technology programs, enabling students to gain cutting-edge knowledge of alternative fuels. Planning is underway for a new science building located near Webster Street. And CoA has applied for a competitive state grant that funds the construction of affordable student housing on community college campuses.

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The “H” Building, the College of Alameda’s newest facility (for now), houses the Center for Liberal Arts and the Apparel Design and Merchandising (ADAM) program. Photo Ken Der.
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An “H” Building classroom dedicated to the ADAM program at the College of Alameda offers expansive views of the East Bay. Photo Ken Der.

“CoA is a college rooted in the community. We are partnering with local businesses, industries, and communities to scale up human capital for livable wages,” Bajrami said. “We are here to shape futures and lives.” She also stressed the importance of community outreach and awareness. “In particular, we want to show underrepresented communities and communities of color that we offer boutique, wraparound services to help them improve their skills.”

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Michelle Chen (left) and Munira Ahmed (middle) typically assist students with course enrollment in the “A” Building. They pose with Dr. Diana Bajrami (right). Photo Ken Der.

Bajrami’s administration has distributed flyers and advertisements online and at in-person community events with the intention of reaching out to prospective students. She has also led a data-driven approach to market specific CoA programs, such as Apparel Design and Merchandising (ADAM), that is experiencing major growth as an industry. The targeted efforts have doubled enrollment in ADAM classes, housed in the top floor of the “H” Building.

Alameda Post - Dr. Diana Bajrami, president of the College of Alameda
Dr. Diana Bajrami. Photo College of Alameda.

Bajrami credits CoA’s numerous longtime faculty and administrators for the college’s ongoing success. “We’re doing so well because of her!” she exclaimed as she introduced Ava Lee-Pang, a senior financial supervisor and analyst. As Marivic Lizardo passed by in the hall, Bajrami added: “She is amazing! She is so robust on student services and we’re so happy to have her here.”

As she walked through campus, Bajrami stopped several times to ask if lost or confused students needed help or assistance. Upon resolving the matters, she welcomed them to campus with open arms.

It is not too late to enroll in classes for Fall 2023. Late start classes at CoA and each of the other Peralta Colleges campuses start mid-September through mid-October and cover a wide variety of topics. Prospective students can begin the application process online.

Ken Der is a proud 2018 graduate of the College of Alameda and the Alameda Science and Technology Institute (ASTI). He is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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