California Community Colleges chancellor urges caution in reopening

Credit: California Community Colleges

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley

Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week that all schools and colleges should be able to reopen after June 15.

He specifically mentioned community colleges in his announcement. But Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the chancellor of the 116 community college system, is expressing caution, and is calling for a more gradual approach. Oakley says he expects more hands-on courses to be offered in person this fall, but that most courses, especially large lecture classes, would still be offered via distance learning, or in a hybrid mode.

That, however, could change as more people get vaccinated.  Specific decisions on reopening lie with individual colleges which are run by locally elected district trustees.

Oakley sat down this week for an interview for EdSource’s podcast “This Week In California Education” to explain his reasoning. He also addressed declining student enrollment at many colleges as a result of the pandemic, and why he’s optimistic the declines could be reversed next year.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

EdSource: You heard the governor this week. He’s expecting all schools to be fully open in the fall, and he specifically referred the community colleges. The last time we heard from you at the community college’s Board of Governors meeting, you were being very cautious.  In fact, you suggested that instruction would be mostly via distance learning, although with more classes open than last year. What’s your thinking now?

Oakley: There are two major keys to community colleges opening up. One is availability of the vaccine. So the sooner and the more widespread that we can get the vaccine to our faculty, to our staff and hopefully to our students in the not-too-distant future, that will certainly help us open up sooner, faster and more completely.

The second thing is K-12 reopening. Many of our faculty, staff and students have children in the K-12 system and have been caring for their children, taking care of them.

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