California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley held a press conference on March 26 in which he talked about several topics, including new resources on the way for Orange Coast College students, the wave of Asian American and Pacific Islander hate incidents, reopening plans, substance abuse and more.
Here is a summary of the biggest news from Oakley:
Half of the money will be distributed to students directly as emergency COVID-19 relief. The other half will be used by schools to improve their resources and services to help students through this time.
The funding will be hitting colleges soon. Follow Coast Report for more updates on Orange Coast College’s distribution plan and when those will be available to students.
In addition, Governor Gavin Newsom included $100 million in assistance in his budget in late February. Students can self-certify to receive emergency funding if they meet certain criteria, such as proof of need (like loss of a job), have a GPA of at least 2.0 or a disability, and demonstrate they’re eligible for a fee waiver from their college this semester or next.
Students can find more information about financial aid at this website.
Decline in enrollment
Community colleges across California are experiencing steeper declines in enrollment than previously expected.
“Not a surprise there’s a decline in enrollment, but it is concerning,” Oakley said.
Oakley encourages all students to start registering for summer classes to help these numbers on their campus. He also suggested colleges utilize resources to target students who’ve had to leave school due to hardships from the pandemic to help with enrollment.
Summer registration opens this week. OCC students can get more information about registering for summer classes here.
Oakley brought up some concerns about the Cal Grant system. For-profit colleges have the same access to Cal Grant funding as public and nonprofit colleges. Oakley believes those funds would be better spent on community colleges.
Some community college students can actually end up paying more out of pocket for school than University of California or California State University students because UC and Cal State students have more access to Cal Grant funding than community college students.
Oakley is working with state legislators to create a more “equitably” accessible Cal Grant system. Assembly Bill No. 1456 was introduced in California on February 19 for the purpose of “modernizing” the Cal Grant system and fixing this issue.
“In order for us to move forward towards full equity, it must be paired with additional investments,” Oakley said, whose goal is to meet the needs of more students.
Oakley also spoke on the concerning rise of pandemic-fueled anti-Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander racism and hate crimes across the country, This has especially impacted Californians, who according to the organization Stop AAPI Hate, received over 800 reports of COVID-19 related hate times in just a three month time span in the state in 2021.
“I want to be very clear, we cannot tolerate AAPI sentiments or violence,” Oakley said. “We need to come together to do everything we can to protect our Asian and AAPI community.”
Local Coast District and OCC leaders have also recently spoken out about the Asian and AAPI hate in the community.
“We are talking to the colleges about beginning to plan for re-opening,” Oakley said. “With COVID-19 numbers decreasing and vaccinations increasing, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Oakley pointed out that some colleges, such as those in Los Angeles County, will be returning as soon as this summer. He said that what reopening looks like and the timing will depend on county guidelines, so each college will be different.
Overall, the state reopening plan for community colleges will probably look similar to the plan for K-12 re-opening, according to Oakley.
“We will be a little slow to re-open to make sure we can ensure the safety of our students and staff,” Oakley said.
“We really want to see our students vaccinated as well – this will make reopening in the fall much smoother,” Oakley said.
Despite statewide discussion over if COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory, Oakley also said California community colleges will not be able to require students to get the vaccine to return to campus because the vaccine was approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.
“We cannot require students to get vaccinated because of emergency status,” Oakley said, but still encouraged students to get vaccinated to help the re-opening process.
Any adult can register on this website to be notified when they’re eligible to get the vaccination in their county.
“It’s a conversation we have constantly,” Oakley said, regarding the rise of young adults abusing substances and overdosing amid the pandemic in California and across the country.
Oakley believes the California Community Colleges need a two-pronged approach in dealing with this matter: the first step is advocating for more resources from the California state legislature, so college leaders can understand the needs of their students and get them targeted help.
The second step is for students and community members to communicate with their local legislators about the issues and share their experiences with this matter. Oakley said the Chancellor’s Office is in the process of finding experts on substance abuse countrywide and trying to convene them with state leaders in Sacramento to discuss this topic.
“At the end of the day, we need to get our colleges more resources so they can address this issue,” Oakley said.