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Vincent Aguayo wasn’t sure he wanted to attend college. At 18 he was already working in construction, making good money putting up drywall, and he was on a path to becoming a supervisor with health benefits.

But then the pandemic hit, and a lot of the people working the jobs to which Aguayo aspired got laid off. He thought of his cousin, who had earned a degree in construction management from California State University, Chico.

“I started thinking I’d rather go to college,” said Aguayo, who lives in Nuevo, near Riverside. “These people lose a job, and they don’t have a degree — what are they going to do?”

This fall, Aguayo enrolled at California State University, Sacramento, one of thousands of students who pushed the Cal State system to record high enrollment, despite predictions that the pandemic and shift to virtual learning would prompt students to leave in droves. The 23 campuses of the university collectively enrolled 485,549 students in fall 2020, about a 0.75% increase over last fall.

“It’s the opposite of what I was expecting,” said Andrea Venezia, executive director of the Education Insights Center, an education policy research organization based at the Sacramento campus. Venezia, along with many higher education researchers and administrators nationwide, had braced for predicted dramatic drops.

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