Student Reporters Question Chancellor at Zoom Conference

By Angela Johnson

Student Press Gets Answers from State Chancellor on Virus

Collegiate journalists from throughout California queried California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley about available supportive resources for students struggling with COVID-19 related problems during a teleconference on April 14, 2020.

The group of 91 student media representatives attended the live-streamed press conference via Zoom.com. Editors and reporters who chimed in with questions were from Chaffey College, Citrus College, San Joaquin Delta College, Laney College, Sacramento City College, Riverside City College, Santa Monica College and Santa Barbara City College. 

Chancellor Oakley and Executive Vice Chancellor Marty Alvarado fielded questions about monetary, instructional and technical resources; the safety of nursing students; maintenance of education quality; support for undocumented and international students; help for students with disabilities and veterans.

Reporters also posed questions about colleges’ compliance with AB705 and the sanitization of the California Community College (CCC) system classrooms and facilities. 

Oakley praised the campus press for its work to keep students and the community abreast of updates from his office in Sacramento, Calif.

“Obviously this is a very unprecedented crisis, which has impacted not only our colleges, our faculty, our staff, and students,” Oakley said. “I want to thank all the student reporters, all the student newspapers for the excellent work that you’re doing to inform your college and your community.” 

Brittany Cruz-Fejeran who is editor-in-chief of the Southwestern College Sun asked how University of California and California State University systems will handle the pass/no pass grades for transfer students. 

Students have the option to petition for a pass/no pass grade for any class this term. Petition deadlines vary according to the individual institution.

The UCs and CSUs allow some leeway and will work with students who want to transfer in the fall, according to Alvarado.

“In addition to the immediate support for students anticipating transfer,” she said, “there is also additional support for students who may be impacted this semester but are looking to transfer in a future semester … There is a lot of flexibility that both systems are applying or providing.” 

James Duffy who represents the Citrus College Clarion questioned how the health and safety of nursing students will be protected while they complete the clinical phase of study at hospitals.  

Chancellor Oakley says that not only do California Community College nursing programs have the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary, but they have enough to spare.

“Matter of fact, they’ve been donating excess PPE to many of our hospitals, as well as ventilators and other equipment,” Oakley said. “The safety of our students is something that I know is paramount to our faculty and program directors and all of our nursing programs.” 

Oakley described different types of clinical experience nursing students could participate in while they maintain their safety. Those included clinical simulation and telemedicine. 

Additional safety measures include modifying courses to accommodate smaller groups of students, having smaller groups use the simulation labs and auxiliary facilities. 

James Millett who is managing editor of the Laney College Tower asked how the transition to online instruction has affected the colleges’ ability to remain compliant with AB705. The measure, which took effect January 2018, requires that California community colleges ensure students enter and complete transfer-level English and math courses within one year. 

“AB 705 is the law,” Chancellor Oakley said. “In a remote environment, I’m sure we are finding some places where it’s challenging. But we’re working through those challenges. We have an expectation that AB705 continues to be implemented.”

Vice Chancellor Alvarado added that colleges also have funding for tutoring/supplemental instruction options that can help them stay in compliance with AB705 requirements. 

“Online tutoring is fully available. And existing tutors, on-campus tutors, can transition online and utilize that platform to continue to engage with students,” Alvarado said. “We have made the online tutoring platform fully available to all 115 institutions.” 

Mike Gonzales at San Joaquin Delta College’s KWDC Radio asked Oakley to forecast how funding for California community colleges might be impaired by the looming recession because of COVID-19.

The chancellor says the pandemic will leave a deep impression.

“The serious and significant impact … continues to ripple,” he said. “The bottom line is we don’t know how big of an impact this is going to be because we’re not through this crisis yet.”

There will be budget cuts. But Oakley said he would work to lessen their severity. 

“We’re going to be advocating hard to mitigate the cuts to community colleges,” Oakley said. “But we’re going to try hard to make sure that they don’t cut into access to education, like what happened last recession.” 

Eric Galicia who is news editor at Riverside City College’s Viewpoints wanted to know what the state is doing to address the needs of undocumented students. 

About $1.5 million in federal money that has been allocated to California colleges through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is specific to student need, according to Chancellor Oakley. And there are no restrictions on those funds right now.  

“We have asked our colleges to prioritize our resident students,” he said. “And what we mean by resident student, is every student that attends our college. We’re not going to make a distinction,” Oakley said. 

Jun Starkey who is editor-in-chief of The Channels newspaper at Santa Barbara City College asked Oakley to talk about the relationship between students being accurately counted in the census and funding for community colleges. 

Oakley says not being counted in the 2020 Census could bring significant consequences for the next decade.

“We have the great fortune of having both the Speaker of the House of Representatives from California, as well as the Minority Leader,” Oakley said. “That wouldn’t happen if we don’t have an accurate census count to ensure that we continue to have the large representation in Congress that we have currently.” 

Federal funds for higher education and the Department of Labor, which helps retrain students who are unemployed, are all tied to an accurate count in the 2020 Census. 

“If we’re not getting an accurate count, we will see less resources over the next 10 years,” Oakley said. 

Eric Spencer from the Chaffey College Breeze said the coordinated response to COVID-19 revealed weaknesses in the current education system. Particularly, the transition to online learning has been troublesome for students and faculty alike.

Spencer asked if students will be less prepared to either enter the workforce, if they’re in a job training program, or less prepared to enter a four-year college.

Chancellor Oakley expressed strong faith in the resilience of community college students.

“Whatever happens to our students this semester, you will be prepared to transfer, and you will do great at the CSU the UC or wherever you go,” he said.

Oakley admitted there were some hidden flaws in the system that were brought to light.

“Clearly, this episode has exposed the problems we have with the digital divide,” Oakley said. “Many of our students don’t have quality broadband or any wi-fi at home or they lack the technology necessary.”

Chancellor Oakley says if there is a silver lining in all this COVID-19 craziness, it is that the most technologically advanced state in the nation has been shown to have some of the worst access to broadband in the country.

“And that’s maddening,” Oakley said. “The major issue is…how we close the digital divide and ensure that we have equity.”

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