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.
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
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.
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.