In summary

The chancellor of California’s largest college system today said he believes online instruction will be the best course of action this fall.

California’s 115 community colleges will likely remain an online system of higher education in the fall, its chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said today.

“As we transition to the fall, many of our colleges have already announced that they’re going fully online in the fall,” Oakley said. “I encourage them to continue to do so. I fully believe that that will be the most relevant way for us to continue to reach our students and to do it in a way that commits to maintaining equity for our students.”

The remarks further highlight the massive change confronting California’s public higher-education students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also underscores how higher education’s emergency measures to address the health risk are becoming longer-term solutions to ensure public safety.

Last week California State University Chancellor Tim White said most of the instruction will remain online in the fall. “Consequently, our planning approach will result in CSU courses primarily being delivered virtually for the fall 2020 term, with limited exceptions for in person activities that cannot be delivered virtually,” the leader of the 23-campus system said.

The University of California expects to decide about its fall plans next month.

Oakley’s remarks began the meeting of California Community Colleges Board of Governors meeting, the body that oversees the system of 2.1 million students.

Commenting on the system’s transition to online instruction in March, Oakley admitted that “there have been lots of bumps on the road to this transition” but that “by and large faculty have made an amazing transition, our colleges have made amazing effort to continue to engage our students.”

The Board of Governors meeting is the first of the three public higher-education segments in California — the CCC, CSU and University of California — to gather following the release of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget for next year. The revised budget proposal detailed across-the-board cuts of about 10 percent to state programs, including state support for the three public higher-education systems. While the systems were told to expect nearly $2 billion less than it was promised back in January, financial aid to keep tuition free for hundreds of thousands of students remained largely intact.

Oakley cautioned against advocates who want to pull money from one community college program to support others. The chancellor didn’t name any school specifically, but it’s likely he was referring to an ongoing campaign to cut funding to Calbright. The state’s new online community college received $100 million in one-time funding two years ago and $20 million of ongoing funding.

The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, an influential faculty membership organization, called for the college to be eliminated last week. The association is part of a constellation of faculty groups and lawmakers who oppose the creation of the college.  

The president of the faculty union representing the system’s instructors said that proposed budget cuts to community colleges make in-person learning in the fall a non-starter. 

“We would need more money to continue the services in-person during this period of time, to provide it safely,” said Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers. “With less money, there’s no other option than online.”

He cites money needed to teach smaller classes, cleaning demands, personal protection gear, and that the same classroom is used by multiple classes during a week.

He stressed that if colleges do remain online, which is a decision that should be made with local officials and administrators, then students must have the Wi-Fi connectivity and laptops they need to continue their learning. “We have to be dealing with equity for our students,” he said.

Oakley stressed unity in his remarks.

“It’s increasingly important that we stay together in our advocacy in this budget year, not to pick one college or one part of the budget and try to use that to mitigate cuts, but to protect all of our colleges to protect all parts of our budget,” Oakley said.

“This is not the time to pull back” on improving student outcomes, Oakley said later in the meeting. “This is a time to double our efforts, because otherwise we’re going to be in the same position we always find ourselves in in California and in the country: We make strides to improving equity, we hit a crisis, and we use that as an excuse to say we can’t continue.”

“We can’t let that happen this time,” he added.

The Board of Governors will continue to meet Tuesday morning. The University of California Board of Regents also starts its three-day meeting Tuesday.  

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Mikhail Zinshteyn has been a higher education reporter since 2015. As a freelancer, he contributed to The Atlantic, The Hechinger Report, Inside Higher Ed and The 74. Previously, he was a reporter at EdSource...