CSU campuses will remain online in the spring. California Community Colleges have yet to make a decision.

With the California State University system’s recent announcement that the spring 2021 semester will be conducted primarily online, Orange Coast College is readying for the same possibility.

The pandemic has resulted in a multitude of challenges for educational institutions. Due to the risks and variables involved, the decision to remain online for the duration of the academic year by the CSU system, while unwelcome to many, was hardly surprising.

On Sept. 10, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White laid out the reasoning behind the decision in a four page letter to the 23-campus community. He emphasized two primary reasons: first, in preparation for the next term, campuses must soon finalize and publish course offerings; and second, the CSU accrediting body, the Senior College Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, requires each campus to seek authorization for online courses. These requirements were initially waived by the U.S. Department of Education for fall 2020 but the waiver expires at the end of December and will not be renewed.

How this decision will affect Orange Coast College and the California Community College system remains to be seen.  On May 12, the CSU system was the first major university system in the nation to announce that most instruction would remain online in the fall to limit the spread of COVID-19. One week later, on May 19, the Coast Community College District announced it would do the same.

“Statewide we have 114 colleges and each of those have different sets of situations,” said Pam Walker, OCC’s interim vice president of instruction. “There are some colleges that might have a more robust opening, and then there are others – particularly around both the COVID pandemic and also with respect to the problems happening with wildfires right now – many of those colleges will probably stay more remote.” 

However, Walker was clear about the fact that this is an evolving situation and OCC is continually working to position itself to respond appropriately.

“I would say, in some of our community colleges, and Orange Coast particularly, we’re trying to be nimble and thoughtful,” she said. “But we also know that, it would appear, unless something changes pretty dramatically- in Orange County and in the system, that we need to be ready to go in an online format, but if we need to pivot and get more courses face to face, I think we can do that.”

Many students are struggling with the online format because it is a much less dynamic way of learning and the lack of social interaction has a whole other set of ramifications.  

“I miss in person instruction a lot, while feeling isolated is tough and more difficult to stay motivated,” said Tim Nguyen, a 40-year-old film major.  

Although online learning can be more convenient in some respects, it brings with it a whole new set of challenges for many students.

“I’m having more trouble retaining the information from my online classes,” said McKenzie Eggie, a 22-year-old health science major. “I’m also finding it really difficult to navigate group projects and connect with other students and my professors.”

Additionally, some programs are extremely difficult if not impossible to teach in an online setting, including construction, aviation and electronics, to name a few. In order to adapt to the ever-evolving situation, OCC has been conducting bi-weekly reopening meetings with faculty and staff.

“How do we keep pivoting in this work? And that’s what the president and executive team is continuing to do – trying to make sure that we keep people safe and that we follow the district and Orange County’s protocols,” Walker said. “We’re going to keep doing reopening forums to see what we need. We hope we’ll get to a place where we can be face to face.” 

As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, OCC’s administration, faculty and staff are doing their best to stay ahead of the curve 

“We’re all in uncharted territory, so we just have to be ever so careful to make sure everybody stays safe and that we don’t have an outbreak at Orange Coast College,” Walker said. “We can also try to start bringing things back to normal the best way we can. It’s about the pivot, right? In higher ed, we have to learn to pivot more than we ever have.”

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