Turning on a Dime

Turning on a Dime

California Community College Transformation in Response to COVID-19


In spring of 2020, community colleges had to rapidly respond to three crises: a pandemic that closed campuses, an economic calamity, and a fundamental national reckoning with anti-Blackness and entrenched racism.

Authored by researchers from UC Davis, UCLA, the Los Angeles Community College District and WestEd, this brief is based on a series of 20 interviews with community college CEOs statewide, capturing leadership and institutional navigation of the pandemic and its academic and economic consequences. With their institutions buffeted by biological, economic and societal forces beyond their control, CEOs were sober about challenges ahead and deeply concerned about profound and disparate impacts on students, staff and faculty. Many leaders, however, saw potential and opportunity for necessary transformation amid crisis and chaos.

Download the brief here.

Key points include:

  • COVID-19 forced rapid and unprecedented adaptation for community colleges. The broad shift to remote learning presented challenges in a few “hard to convert” disciplines but gave rise to creative solutions in others.
  • Community colleges have played central roles in meeting student and community needs, from providing laptops, internet access, food and emergency grants for students to donating and manufacturing essential medical equipment for local hospitals.
  • The leadership and adaptive demands of an extraordinary crisis have brought stress and generated significant concern about disproportionate impact on disadvantaged students, but opportunities for institutional transformation have also been seized.
  • Colleges face significant challenges and uncertainty ahead. Just as high unemployment drives higher enrollment demand and the colleges move to support California’s economic recovery, their budgets are vulnerable to cuts due to the economic downturn.

Download the brief here.

A companion brief, Toward a More Perfect Institution, documents how racism is felt across the community colleges—personally and institutionally—and explores both barriers and opportunities to address it. 

These briefs capture first-hand narratives and lived experiences of how leaders of the nation’s largest and most diverse system of higher education have adapted within multiple layers of a crisis that continues to unfold.

View other Wheelhouse research here. 

Log in