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From COVID to Career Education: Orange County’s Community College Chancellors Weigh In Feature Story

January 30, 2021
oC community college chancellors

Orange County’s four community college districts boast a combined service area of 835 square miles, and an average of 217,000 students each semester, while employing over 10,000 people. As the chief executive officers of these districts, Orange County’s chancellors serve as the highest-level academic leaders in the region, guiding their districts and supervising college presidents.

In addition to acting as the liaison between their districts and their governing boards, their key responsibilities include managing resources and expenditures, strategic institutional development, district-wide strategic planning, maintaining accreditation, and planning for the long-term financial stability of the district and its colleges.

Recently, Orange County’s four chancellors took a break from their busy schedules to share their thoughts about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of career education in the region. Here’s what they had to say…

Coast Community College District (Coastline College, Golden West College, Orange Coast College)

Chancellor John Weispfenning, Ph.D.

Of all the challenges created by COVID, are there any that community college students are particularly vulnerable to? If so, what is your district doing to address those challenges?

Many community college students aspire to social and economic mobility and pursue college education while doing multiple jobs. Often shouldering family obligations, they are especially vulnerable to significant disruptions such as COVID. With many in Orange County out of work, the number of students who need additional food support has increased. Every week, our District colleges hand out boxes of food to hundreds of students. The District has also implemented book and computer device loan programs to help students with instruction essentials while also reaching out regularly to students through email, calls, or texts to provide information, support, and encouragement.

COVID-19 has created significant challenges for career ed programs across the country, but programs are adapting. Identify one program that has overcome challenges caused by COVID-19 that you are particularly proud of and explain why.  

Our career education faculty responded with incredible creativity and a spirit of compassion for students who were caught in the disruption and anxiety of the sudden COVID shutdown.  Faculty put their own needs second to those of their students and pitched in above and beyond the call of duty to support student success under the most difficult circumstances.

The Regional Criminal Justice Training Center at Golden West College, which is required to maintain the strict standards set by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), needed to adjust rapidly and decisively to meet the demand for student, faculty, and staff safety. This adjustment, which included detailed plans and protocols for mitigating any COVID impacts to the program, is leading to the continued training of essential public safety workers in traditional modalities. As a result, POST-regulated programs are proceeding as usual with great success and minimal impact to all the college participants. Golden West College has completed a Regular Basic Course (RBC) and a Specialized Investigators Basic Course (SIBC) during this time. Golden West College has an RBC that will continue through Spring 2021 and into Summer 2021. 

Orange Coast College has a highly regarded, popular, and award-winning Culinary Arts program that was drastically impacted by the shutdown. The requirement to provide only remote instruction seemed like it might be an impossible barrier for the culinary students.  But the faculty responded creatively and quickly, devising a system and means to create kits that included tools and ingredients that students could pick up and use at home to complete their hands-on assignments and practice their skills while interacting with the faculty via Zoom in real time. Faculty put together a team and a system for contactless pickup of the kits for students. It was and still is an amazing response and effort that is allowing those students to continue and excel in their programs, despite the remote instruction situation.

What is one CTE-related project/program that you are especially excited for in 2021? 

In 2021, Coastline College’s California Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program (CCAP) will celebrate achievements of its apprentices. The apprenticeship completers will be recognized during the May 2021 graduation ceremony. As part of the state-registered apprenticeship program, CCAP students complete eight required IT/Cybersecurity courses, six industry certifications, and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. It is a rigorous program that takes up to two years to complete. The students who successfully complete the program possess and demonstrate persistence, discipline, and passion for IT/Cybersecurity.

Golden West College is excited to launch a new Health Information Technology program in Fall 2021. This program prepares students for one of the highest-demand occupations in Orange County. We are excited to offer this program to meet our community and students’ needs in this excellent pathway into the healthcare career cluster.  

North Orange County Community College District (Cypress College, Fullerton College, North Orange Continuing Education)

Chancellor Cheryl Marshall, Ed.D.

On a district level, what negative impacts have you seen from the COVID-19 pandemic and what is your district doing to overcome those challenges? Or, what district-level adaptations or changes are being made to address the challenges of COVID-19? 

We have experienced a significant loss of enrollment with students withdrawing from classes and not returning. Our noncredit programs have been the hardest hit, with a loss of approximately 20% of our students. To overcome these challenges, we have moved all services online and have done outreach to encourage students to continue their studies and/or return to college. We have also distributed laptops, set up Wi-Fi hot spots at each campus, provided emergency grants and loans, continued food distribution, and set up some outdoor study spaces. 

What is one CTE-related project/program that you are especially excited for in 2021? 

We are very excited at the prospect of regional collaboration on platforms that provide virtual labs and experiential learning.

Will community college career education programs be important to Orange County’s post-COVID economic recovery and why?

Absolutely. CTE programs provide short-term certificates in high-demand fields to empower students to go to work, to upskill, and to start new careers. 

Rancho Santiago Community College District (Santa Ana College, Santiago Canyon College)

Chancellor, Marvin Martinez, MA

On a district level, what negative impacts have you seen from the COVID-19 pandemic and what is your district doing to overcome those challenges? Or, what district-level adaptations or changes are being made to address the challenges of COVID-19?

Like our fellow Orange County community college districts, we have seen a decrease in enrollment as our students work to pay for basic living expenses. Through the CARES Act funds we were able to support many of our students with financial grants, and our colleges continued distributions through our food pantries. While all of us have struggled in some manner, we have seen our district come together to ensure our students have access to health services and unending support in their educational pursuits.

Will community college career education programs be important to Orange County’s post-COVID economic recovery and why?

Career education is critical to the core of Orange County’s economy. From roads and buildings to healthcare and child development, career education programs touch all facets of human existence. We depend on our healthcare providers to make sure our bodies are healthy and thriving, rely on our firefighters and peace officers to keep us safe from danger, and our electricians and plumbers to make sure our basic need for heat and water is supplied. We are honored to offer these educational programs that are so vital to our residents and our economy.

South Orange County Community College District (Irvine Valley College, Saddleback College)

Chancellor Kathleen Burke, Ed.D.

On a district level, what negative impacts have you seen from the COVID-19 pandemic and what is your district doing to overcome those challenges? Or, what district-level adaptations or changes are being made to address the challenges of COVID-19?

From a district perspective, we were challenged to respond to multiple crises during the pandemic that impacted our operations at every level. We were forced to quickly address the restructuring of policies, procedures, budgeting, communication, and service to students, while navigating the changes occurring at the regional, state, and global levels. Keeping in mind our values and mission were key in making difficult yet rapid decisions which always led us back to the service of students and responsibility to the community.

During the pandemic, our departments worked together to establish work-from-home protocols and seamlessly converted to a remote environment. For staff and faculty that had to return to campus, departments worked together to create our “Return to Work Guidelines” and made sure that we were following the guidelines for a safe and clean working environment, as well as providing training opportunities to employees for establishing safe working techniques while at home. Although new and different, our main focus was continuing to provide the best service possible to our employees, departments, and students.  It was truly a team effort by everyone involved! 

Of all the challenges created by COVID, are there any that community college students are particularly vulnerable to? If so, what is your district doing to address those challenges?

Studies and data confirmed that minority communities were adversely impacted by the pandemic and experienced hardships at a greater rate in relation to job loss and a weakened economy. In response, we have made concerted efforts to support these students with the support they needed to continue to succeed in their studies by providing technology tools, support services, and basic needs resources. This was accomplished through coordinated referral programs and partnerships with community partners.