California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley announced in a Jan. 26 press conference that students could be back on campus as early as summer, with new emergency assistance and resources available.
“We are paying very close attention to our public health officials in California, to help us figure out how and when to reopen,” Oakley said. “But, we are beginning to think about fall of 2021 or even the summer to see some possible in person instruction begin to happen. This is a top priority for us in the Chancellor’s office.”
The decision to re-open campuses will be made locally by colleges with certain regulations set in place by the California Department of Public Health.
With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, state officials are hopeful that students will be back on campus soon. Though it won’t be a totally normal semester when students return, with regulations in place for capacity limits and social distancing, it will be a start, according to Oakley.
Students can also expect to see new emergency assistance and resources available to them as they return to school, along with the help already available.
“In spite the challenges, our colleges have continued to provide technical support, resources, assistance and instruction, thanks to the help of our great faculty and staff,” Oakley said. “Tutoring, counseling, mental health services, technology assistance and food pantries continue to be available to students.”
In addition, the new stimulus package passed in December included $290 million for direct assistance to California community college students who are struggling during the pandemic. This money, which was given directly to campuses, is available now as administrators work on plans to distribute the funds.
The distribution will be similar to the plan utilized with the CARES Act, but won’t have the same strict eligibility requirements implemented by the Trump Administration.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has also included $250 million in emergency student financial assistance. If approved, $100 million will be made available as an “early action package,” this spring before the budget process is completed, typically in June. The remaining $150 million will be released this summer upon finalization of the budget.
“The governor’s proposal includes investments in work-based learning in mental health resources and student retention, as well as re-enrollment for those who had to stop going to our colleges,” Oakley said. “As well as ongoing investments into online education infrastructure to help support students who have to continue attending remotely.”
Oakley said students can also expect an expansion of all apprenticeship programs if the proposal is approved, providing opportunities for the many Californians who have found themselves jobless during the pandemic.
Substantial funding for increase in mental health resources for students is also included in the budget.
“This is a very important part of recovery from the pandemic,” Oakley said. “It has taken a massive toll on our students.”
As community colleges across California see drops in enrollment, FAFSA applications from high school seniors are down by 12% from last year, and California Dream applications are down by 19% from the same time last year.
“This is especially concerning because for our undocumented students, state aid is the only kind of aid they can quality to receive,” Oakley said.
To be eligible for financial aid from the state, students must submit an application to Cal Grants by the March 2 deadline.
“Not completing the application is leaving money on the table- which Californians do, every year,” Oakley said, who encouraged students to apply for all the resources they can.
For students looking to learn about financial aid, financial aid workshops and other resources can be found here. There is also a new website available for Californians to check when it’s their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccination here.