Friday, April 29, 2022

Who’s Missing from California’s Community Colleges?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2022 at 3:49 PM

California community colleges have seen their enrollment drop by about a fifth during the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 300,000 fewer students enrolled in fall 2021 compared with fall 2019. 

“This raises critical concerns about equitable access to higher education as well as the ability to meet workforce needs,” said Paul Feist, vice chancellor of communications for the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. “It is why the entire community college system has mobilized to stabilize and turn back these declines.” 

California lawmakers last year gave the system $120 million to help bring students back. So far, as CalMatters has previously reported, progress has been uneven. At 42 of California’s 116 community colleges, more students left in the fall of 2021 than in fall of 2020.

So who exactly is still missing from the state’s community colleges?

Students who need — or decide — to work full time, for one, the chancellor’s office said. That includes parents, who are not only supporting themselves but their families. And it includes people who decided to take advantage of a labor market in which companies, struggling to find enough workers, are paying well above minimum wage for jobs that don’t require a degree.

One out of four prospective students surveyed in December by the Chancellor’s Office said they didn’t enroll because of full-time work. A big factor holding students back was affordability, with 43 percent of the 400 prospective students surveyed saying that even though the state’s community college tuition is among the lowest in the country, at $46 per unit, it is still too expensive to pursue a degree. 

“People think that community college is affordable, and in some ways it is. That total cost of attending college is more than just fees and tuition,” Feist said. “It involves books, housing, child care, and everything that goes into the total cost of success.” 

College enrollments are down across the country, although community colleges in California saw steeper declines than in many states.

Some of the enrollment declines can be attributed to demographic trends such as birth rates falling, says Jessica Thompson, vice president of The Institute for College Access and Success, a national organization. But the pandemic, she says, also has exacerbated a lot of pre-existing gaps in who is able to access college and who cannot.

“I’m going to college to fill out paperwork? Are you kidding me?”

Jesse Driskill, former City College of San Francisco student

People from lower-income families and people of color are at a higher risk of not being able to attend college, or having to drop out, for a number of reasons including caregiving responsibilities, obligations to work, and trouble accessing the technology they need, Thompson says. 

Here are the stories of some of the Californians who dropped out from community college over the past two years. They were challenged by online learning, financial needs, and mental health. Many intended, or still intend, to re-enroll, although the decision to leave community college sent all of them down new paths:

Turned off by online learning

Jesse Driskill is photographed outside his home in San Francisco on Apr. 7, 2022. - PHOTO BY MARTIN DO NASCIMENTO, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
  • Jesse Driskill is photographed outside his home in San Francisco on Apr. 7, 2022.
Jesse Driskill dropped out of community college before his first course even started. The pandemic stymied the educational plans of many students. For Driskill, it deepened his disillusionment about the entire enterprise.

Attending college was not a certainty for Driskill, 19, who barely made it through high school with passing grades. “I didn’t try at school, and I just didn’t really like school,” he said. “It’s not like I was going to get into a good college. So, my only option was community.”

Driskill waited more than a year after graduating from high school in 2020 to register for classes at City College of San Francisco, at his mother’s encouragement. “You know, she didn’t want a deadbeat son because that kind of sucks,” he joked.

But then he learned that all of his classes would be held online in an asynchronous format. He would only interact with professors and students through Google classroom. “I felt like that was some serious bullshit,” he said. “Like I’m going to college to fill out paperwork? Are you kidding me? I want to talk to people, say hi to people. I want to see faces.”

The lack of in-person interactions made the decision not to attend City College an easy one. He already was unsure about what he wanted to study in college, as most academic subjects seemed obscure and unrelated to his real-life concerns, like making money.

But then, unexpectedly, Driskill found himself back in school late last year when he enrolled in App Academy, a for-profit institution that trains students in software engineering. His mother, a massage therapist, learned about the program from a client and helped her son pay the $17,000 tuition.

Driskill was optimistic that the 16-week, online course would land him a high-paying job in the tech sector of San Francisco. “I’m pretty interested in not staying poor,” he said. “Getting a software engineering job would definitely help with that. I mean coding is fun, which is part of the reason why I want to pursue this. But the main reason is money.”

— Emily Margaretten

Recovering from long COVID

The pandemic made an indelible mark on the life of Becky Langley, a returning student in her 30s.

She was working full-time as an emergency room technician, assessing patients’ needs and monitoring their vital signs, while studying at Lassen Community College to become a surgical technician – a job with a higher salary. 

This year started off strong for Langley, but soon she was regularly working 12-hour shifts as emergency rooms were overwhelmed by the pandemic.

She did much of her studying inside the emergency room. Langley would start her shifts at 7 p.m. and stayed busy until about 11:30 p.m. From 12:30 to 3 or 4 a.m. she had enough down time to study. By 5 a.m. the patients would begin to roll back in, and finally at 7 a.m. she could go home.  

The long days soon took their toll. In February, she contracted COVID-19 and was forced to drop out of school to focus on her health. She was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia, or “long COVID,” and is still recovering. 

“I think we’re all just spent.”

Becky Langley, health care worker and former Lassen Community College student

Langley cited the hospital’s crisis staffing as the biggest catalyst for her dropping out of school. If it weren’t for all the overtime, she said, “I still could have been in school and I probably wouldn’t have gotten sick,” Langley said. 

She said she thinks all health care workers are feeling the same burnout that she is. “Everything that’s happened over the past two years has made it so overwhelming and exhausting,” Langley said. “I think we’re just all spent.”

After taking a break from work, Langley returned to a different department in the hospital and is also apprenticing in the surgical department until she can go back to school and get her certification. 

“Healthwise, I’m better,” Langley said. “I’ve just got to find a way to get motivated to get back into school. It’s hard when you quit.”

— Oden Taylor 

Anevay Martinez is photographed outside her home in Indio on April 16, 2022. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters
Anevay Martinez is photographed outside her home in Indio on April 16, 2022. Anxious to start her career, Martinez said she felt like community college was taking too long. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

Opting for a fast path to work

Anevay Martinez started at College of the Desert in Palm Desert right after graduating from high school in 2020, hoping higher education would kick start a career in medicine. Her plan was to take courses there for two years and then transfer to a four-year university. 

But Martinez struggled to learn without the structure of in-person classes. She started dreading going to school. She didn’t want to sit through general education classes that had nothing to do with her major. Instead, she wanted to jump right into her career. 

 After just a couple of weeks, she dropped out. 

Martinez, 20, said that as the oldest of seven children in a low-income family, she wanted to start working so she could support herself. For her, two years of community college was too long to wait.

“I know if I want to do things by myself,” she said, “it’s gonna cost money.”

Martinez was out of school for a year, and then her mother brought her information about Mayfield College, a private, for-profit college. 

Martinez was drawn to Mayfield’s promises that its program would lead to a career. Being able to get a job right after a nine-month program, she said, was worth the extra cost of Mayfield over a community college.

Through Mayfield, she got an externship at an internal medicine office in Palm Desert, taking patients’ blood pressure and temperature, going over their medications with them, and prepping for X-rays and MRIs. That eventually turned into a full-time job once she got her medical assisting certificate. On the weekends, she works at a retirement home.

Eventually, she said, she wants to return to community college and become an ultrasound technician. But she’s unsure when that might happen.

“I wanted to just start doing something so I can start living on my own and get my life started faster,” she said. “I don’t want to rely on my parents more than I have to.” 

— Emma Hall

Ally Haynes is photographed at their home in Eureka on Apr. 9, 2022. Photo by Patrick Garcia for CalMatters
Ally Haynes is photographed at their home in Eureka on April 9, 2022. The pandemic affected Haynes’ mental health — so much, they said, that they left school. Photo by Patrick Garcia for CalMatters

Taking a break for mental health

Ally Haynes had gotten used to 12-hour days. Before the pandemic, they were studying agriculture at the College of the Redwoods from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., then working from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at an after-school program for kids. Then COVID hit.

“Everything kind of stopped. I went from working every morning … (to) doing nothing, and I was like, what am I doing? I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what my hobbies are, what I’m interested in,” Haynes said.

Haynes is only one semester’s worth of credits away from being able to transfer to a four-year university. But they felt so off-kilter once the pandemic started that they decided they needed to take a break.

Online school had proved challenging. “I have ADHD, so focusing at home is a lot harder for me than focusing in school,” Haynes said.

“For my mental health,” they decided, “I just needed to step back and take care of that rather than worrying about my education.”

During their semester off, they’ve been continuing to pursue their dream career as an agricultural educator by shadowing a bee farmer. College isn’t off the table for them forever, though.

“I have ADHD, so focusing at home is a lot harder for me than focusing in school.”

Ally Haynes, former student at College of the Redwoods

They came into college, they said, without really having much preparation. Neither of their parents attended college. 

“All my life it’s been something that they’re really pushed hard toward: me going to a college and getting a higher education,” they said, “because of how much they struggled not having higher education.”

Haynes is encouraged by the fact that they’re so close to transferring. They now plan to return next semester.

— Emily Forschen

Struggling as a student parent

At just 19 years old, nursing student Brianna Hatfield felt like she was taking on the world alone. 2020 came like a storm to her life: A day after her father passed away, her husband was arrested.  The day after that, she learned about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hatfield was left raising three children on her own—her youngest, Abigail, was just three weeks old— and commuting 67 miles each way to classes at Lassen Community College. 

Often, she said, she wouldn’t get home until 10 p.m. after finishing her assignments and staying late to study, leaving her children with her mother. The hardest part, she said, was “having time for everything, to do my (school) work, take care of my kids, and do my job.” 

As a breastfeeding mother, Hatfield regularly had to leave her classes to pump. She would often leave a recorder on the desk to capture the lectures, she said, but by the time she got home she was too tired to play them back. 

Taking her children to doctor’s appointments also cut into class time. She failed a test, then was dropped from the program because she fell below a ‘C’ average.

She is now taking one English course just to maintain her on-campus job, which is open only to students.

She plans to go back to the nursing program in fall of 2023, once her husband is released from prison.

“I know if my husband was home during the time I went to nursing school, I most likely would have passed because I would have had that extra help to care for my kids,” Hatfield said. “It would have given me the extra time that I needed to practice and study.”

— Oden Taylor 

Hall, Forschen and Taylor are fellows with the CalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists from across California. Margaretten is a contributor to the network. This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

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Friday, April 22, 2022

COVID Outbreak Strands NoHum Students in Rome, Milan

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2022 at 6:43 PM

A rapid antigen COVID-19 test is used on patients at Canal Alliance’s test site in San Rafael. - PHOTO BY PENNI GLADSTONE FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Penni Gladstone for CalMatters
  • A rapid antigen COVID-19 test is used on patients at Canal Alliance’s test site in San Rafael.
A Northern Humboldt Unified High School District trip to Europe has been derailed by COVID-19 outbreaks, leaving some students in locked quarantine facilities overseas and parents scrambling for information amid rising frustrations.

“It’s a fucking nightmare,” said Rae Robison, whose son, an Arcata High School student, is on the trip and is currently being held in a hotel that’s been converted into an Italian government-run quarantine center in Rome.

According to Robison and other parents, the trip, planned by the educational travel company EF Tours, included 68 students from multiple schools’ AP Europe classes and about 10 chaperones, and set out during the schools' springs breaks. The group landed around 11 a.m. on April 12 in London, where it spent three days, before moving on to three days in France and then Italy.

According to parents’ Facebook posts and interviews with the Journal, some students quickly began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

“Immediately upon arrival in London, kids were sick — runny noses, sore throats — and a chaperone was coughing,” said Angelina Torres, whose 17-year-old daughter, a student of Arcata High School, is on the trip. She added that as students increasingly became symptomatic in the ensuing days, some expressed concerns but were told they were likely just struggling with jet lag and adjusting to a new climate.

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Monday, April 18, 2022

USA TODAY Highlights Case of HSU Dean Fired for Harassing Colleagues but Allowed to 'Retreat' into Tenured Post

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2022 at 3:31 PM

USA TODAY published a two-month investigation into the case of a former dean at now Cal Poly Humboldt who was given a tenured professorship under what's known as "retreat rights," even though he was fired from his administrative role in 2016 after campus investigations found he had groped two female colleagues.

According to the article, John Lee currently teaches in the School of Education, earning $154,000 a year, under the "retreat" provision of his contract that guaranteed him a safe landing even if he engaged in serious misconduct. His reinstatement after a three-month leave placed him back among the same faculty as the women he was found to have harassed.

"Retreat rights is not designed to be a Get Out of Jail Free card," one of the women told USA TODAY, "but that's exactly how it's being used."

Lee, the USA TODAY story states, declined to comment.

The investigation into the story, which is currently subscriber-only content,  included interviews with dozens of Lee's current and former colleagues at the Arcata campus, as well as contract and labor experts and those with expertise on Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination in education, and the review of dozens of documents, among them correspondences to then Humboldt State University administrators about Lee's behavior, USA TODAY states.

Complaints about Lee's management style and his creation of a hostile work environment that included screaming insults began soon after he arrived at Humboldt in 2010 and continued, with those raising concerns hitting brick walls in seeking assistance from both Human Resources and other high ranking administrators, according to the USA TODAY report. That included Robert Snyder, who in one of his last acts as provost and vice president of Academic Affairs in 2014 reportedly altered Lee's contract to ensure he would receive the maximum allowable salary if he retreated to a tenured position.

Things took a turn in 2015 when Synder's replacement urged one of Lee's associate deans not to resign due to his conduct but to file an HR case, which eventually set into motion the two investigations that culminated with Lee's firing from the dean post, according to USA TODAY.

The report on California State University's far-flung Humboldt campus comes on the heels of a related investigation that USA TODAY published in February (also subscriber only), which revealed how former Fresno State University President Joseph Castro gave one his top administrations a payout deal to retire rather than take a faculty position after he was found in 2020 to have committed abusive conduct in the workplace as well as sexual harassment.

Castro, who had just been named CSU chancellor, resigned from his newly acquired position two weeks after USA TODAY published the story on that settlement with Frank Lamas and what the paper describes as Castro's "mishandling of at least a dozen sexual harassment, bullying and retaliation complaints against Lamas over a six-year span."

In the end, Castro received a $400,000 settlement and ended up using his retreat rights to be a tenured professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the paper states.

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Saturday, April 9, 2022

Third Student Alleges Inappropriate Behavior by Fortuna Math Teacher

Posted By on Sat, Apr 9, 2022 at 1:31 PM

Gary Landergen's jail booking photo. - HUMBOLDT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Humboldt County Sheriff's Office
  • Gary Landergen's jail booking photo.
Another Fortuna High School student has come forward to make allegations against the math teacher arrested Wednesday on suspicion of sexually assaulting two students.

Gary Landergen, who’d returned to Fortuna High School this year, where he’d previously taught in the 1990s before leaving for Argonaut High School in Amador County, was arrested on a Ramey warrant Wednesday after “at least two students” came forward to report they had been the victim of “inappropriate and unwelcome groping and/or fondling by Landergen,” according to a press release. Fortuna police detectives have also located witnesses who independently “observed some of the alleged misconduct,” according to the release.

Fortuna Police Chief Casey Day told the Journal a third student came forward to police late Thursday and recounted “multiple conversations" the student found uncomfortable and inappropriate.

“They were conversations that related to specific body parts and specific outfits,” Day said, adding that police are not “referring to the student as a victim as of yet” and the investigation remains very much active.

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

Fortuna High School Teacher Arrested for Alleged Sexual Battery of Students

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2022 at 9:43 AM

Gary Landergen's jail booking photo. - HUMBOLDT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Humboldt County Sheriff's Office
  • Gary Landergen's jail booking photo.
The Fortuna Police Department has arrested Fortuna Union High School math teacher and wrestling coach Gary Landergen on allegations he sexually assaulted at least two students.

According to a press release, "at least two students" came forward to report they had been the victim of "inappropriate and unwelcome groping and/or fondling by Landergen." The Fortuna Union High School District placed Landergen on administrative leave just prior to his arrest at about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, according to the release.

The press release notes that detectives were able to locate and identify witnesses in the case who had "observed some of the alleged misconduct."

Landergen was booked into the Humboldt County jail on suspicion of sexual battery and annoying, harassing or molesting a child. He was released after posting bail, according to sheriff's office spokesperson Samantha Karges.

The Fortuna Police Department is asking for the public's assistance identifying other potential victims and witnesses.

"Victims and their families are urged to come forward with any information and to immediately contact school administrators and the police department," the press release states.

Landergen reportedly taught and coached in Fortuna in the 1990s before leaving for Argonaut High School in Amador County, where he coached boys and girls wrestling and football and worked until last year.

Attempts to reach Fortuna Union High School District Superintendent Glen Senestraro and Police Chief Casey Day for additional information for this story were unsuccessful.

See the full press release from FPD below:

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Friday, March 25, 2022

El Leñador Takes Home Awards

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2022 at 3:23 PM


Cal Poly Humboldt’s student-run bilingual newspaper El Leñador and its staff won a number of awards, including the “People’s Choice” award in Best of Show, at a college newspaper conference earlier this month.

The paper published in English and Spanish was also recognized with first place wins for Best Special Issue/Section, Best Arts and Entertainment Story and Best Illustration along with more nods to the staff’s work in photography, infographics and feature writing.

“El Leñador was rewarded for all of our passion and hard work. It filled my journalist soul with happiness and excitement to do more,” said Co-editor in Chief Karina Ramos Villalobos, who won the first place award for Best Arts and Entertainment story.

Ramos Villalobos joined El Leñador reporter Ricardo Lara Nava and public relations manager Steffi Puerto in presenting a workshop at the Associated Collegiate Press conference about their work putting out a monthly bilingual publication that focuses its coverage on Latinx and diverse communities.

“El Leñador strives to publish local Spanish news because of the lack of information to local Spanish speakers in Humboldt County,” Lara Nava said. “We are a small team who wear many hats to get the newspaper out.”

Read more about El Leñador and the paper’s awards below:

ARCATA, CA - El Leñador, the student-run bilingual newspaper at Cal Poly Humboldt, won the first-place “People’s Choice” award in Best of Show at the Associated Collegiate Press national conference in Long Beach on March 5. The newspaper also won three first-place awards in the 2022 California College Media Association statewide competition and these awards were presented at the same conference.

The English and Spanish newspaper, which focuses on covering Latinx and diverse communities, took first-place awards for Best Special Issue/Section, Best Arts and Entertainment Story, and Best Illustration. Staff also won five additional awards.

“El Leñador was rewarded for all of our passion and hard work. It filled my journalist soul with happiness and excitement to do more,” said Co-editor in Chief Karina Ramos Villalobos, who also won the first-place award for Best Arts and Entertainment story.

El Leñador staff, Ramos Villalobos, reporter Ricardo Lara Nava, and public relations manager Steffi Puerto also held a workshop at the ACP conference about how they produce a bilingual college news publication.

“El Leñador strives to publish local Spanish news because of the lack of information to local Spanish speakers in Humboldt County,” Lara Nava said. “We are a small team who wear many hats to get the newspaper out.”

About El Leñador

El Leñador is an award-winning monthly bilingual news publication. You can find El Leñador online at or the print editions distributed on campus and in Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna, McKinleyville, and Trinidad. In 2016, El Leñador was named Best Non-weekly Newspaper by the California College Media Association and the “Best All-Around Student Newspaper” in Region 11 by the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2020 Mark of Excellence competition.

2022 Associated Collegiate Press Spring National College Media Conference

First Place

People’s Choice: Newspaper

Best of Show Award Competition

Third Place

Newspaper / Four-year campus, 10,000 students or fewer

Best of Show Award Competition

2022 CCMA awards

First Place Awards

Best Special Issue/Section - El Leñador Staff - La Leñadora: Women’s Issue

Best Arts and Entertainment Story - Karina Ramos Villalobos - Local Nigerian reggae musician Ju Drum uses his platform for social justice message

Best Illustration - Raven Marshall - May 2021 Cover: COVID-19: What you need to know right now

Second Place Awards

Infographic - Sergio Berrueta, Nancy Garcia, Alexandra Gonzalez - What you need to know about COVID-19 now

Feature Photograph - Ricardo Lara Nava - BIPOC Surfer

News Photograph - Lupita Rivera - Justice for Josiah: Four years later, the fight continues

Third Place Awards

Feature Story - Ricardo Lara Nava - Eureka Chinatown Project 

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Monday, March 21, 2022

The Collapse of Community College Enrollment: Can California Turn it Around?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2022 at 4:10 PM

College of the Redwoods. - FILE
  • File
  • College of the Redwoods.
After community college enrollment collapsed in late 2020, California lawmakers last year gave the system of public two-year colleges $120 million to help stem the tide of departing students and bring them back.

So far, progress has been uneven. Through last fall, just 17 of California’s 116 community colleges have seen the number of students they enroll grow since fall of 2020. At 42 colleges, more students left in the fall of 2021 than in fall of 2020, according to a CalMatters analysis of system enrollment data.

 Officials acknowledge that the number of students attending continued to sag systemwide. “Fall 2021 headcount is down approximately 7 percent from fall 2020 and down 20 percent overall compared to fall 2019,” a cratering of more than 300,000 students over those two years, said a March memo from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

While $120 million may be a rounding error in the state’s $47 billion commitment to higher education for the current budget year, it’s still a large chunk of change.

Lawmakers and the governor last year didn’t include any reporting requirements for colleges to show how they are using the re-enrollment dollars.

Gov. Gavin Newsom now wants to send another $150 million to community colleges to further bolster their re-enrollment efforts. 

The expected return on investment is unclear.

While colleges received $20 million to stimulate re-enrollment in March of last year — well before fall term began — the remaining $100 million only reached colleges in the middle of September at the earliest, several weeks after nearly all colleges started their fall semesters. While most state higher education financial support is annual, this money was one-time.

That means the bulk of the money’s impact can’t be measured yet. The full package’s effect on student enrollment for the spring is also unknown because colleges don’t report their student population numbers until around July.

Nor will the public ever truly know how colleges spend this money: Lawmakers and the governor last year didn’t include any reporting requirements for colleges to show how they are using the re-enrollment dollars.

The chancellor’s office of the community colleges supports Newsom’s plan for re-enrollment money but in its budget request last year sought $20 million in annual support, not $150 million one-time.

Enrollment big picture

Early signs suggest the $120 million for re-enrollment has made a difference in stabilizing campus student populations, but other factors are also responsible for bringing more students back or keeping them from leaving. Offering more courses in-person played a role, several college administrators said, as did billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief aid for students and colleges.

Much of the enrollment loss is outside the control of colleges. The labor market is sizzling now, with rampant labor shortages leading employers to pay well above minimum wage for positions that typically don’t require a college education. Historically, community college enrollment swells during economic downturns when employers are more selective, prizing applicants with college degrees. But enrollment dips when the economy is hot because adults don’t view education as an immediate ticket toward gainful employment. 

The whole California community college system isn’t likely to return to its fall 2019 enrollment levels until two or three years from now, said John Hetts, a visiting executive for the chancellor’s office who oversees enrollment.

Colleges will have to work harder to keep their student populations steady. The public K-12 system is projected to shrink by nearly 600,000 students in eight years. California’s overall population has been either stagnant or in slight decline. Enrollment growth will have to come from more adults who aren’t recent high-school graduates — including the roughly 3 million 25-to-54-year-olds who already have some college but no degree — and from college efforts to retain a greater share of their existing students, Hetts said.

Financial aid helpers

Rio Hondo College, in a suburban pocket of eastern Los Angeles County, saw its number of students inch up from 16,292 to 16,370 since fall 2020. That’s still well short of the more than 21,000 enrolled in fall 2019, but makes it one of the very few community colleges that managed to actually grow in the past year. 

Signing up students for financial aid has been key, Rio Hondo officials said.

The college used $200,000 of its $1.2 million in re-enrollment money to hire 10 part-time staffers who coached students through applying for federal and state financial aid. All that money came from last year’s smaller March allotment of re-enrollment funding.

Signing up students for financial aid has been key, Rio Hondo officials said.

The goal at the start of last fall was to increase the number of new and current students applying for financial aid by 5 percent, a target the school hit, said Earic Dixon-Peters, vice president of student services at the college. With state or federal dollars in hand, more students remain in school.

Rio Hondo is also setting aside $4 million in federal COVID-19 relief to pardon students’ campus debt, such as from unpaid tuition bills. Before the pandemic, if a student owed the campus any amount of money, that student could not register for classes. Now, registration is open to students with outstanding balances. So far 4,000 students took up the college on that offer, leading to $1.7 million in fee forgiveness, said Stephen Kibui, vice president of finance at Rio Hondo.

Shift to in-person helping

At Santa Barbara City College, enrollment inched up to 13,855 students in fall 2021 compared to 13,664 the previous year, which is still short of the 14,874 enrolled in fall 2019.

But the college’s $1.2 million share of the state re-enrollment money had nothing to do with it. The college moved the first installment in March to this fiscal year. As for the remaining $1 million? “We didn’t even know about it till October,” said Kindred Murillo, the college’s interim president. Fall classes at Santa Barbara began Aug. 23. 

Helping to fuel the enrollment uptick? More in-person classes, Murillo said. In fall 2021, about 70 percent of classes were online compared to around 88 percent in fall 2020. Pre-pandemic, about 17 percent of the college’s classes were online.

 The lost students were “the students that really do well in in-person classes and were struggling in the online program,” said Murillo. The college’s push for more in-person classes included a focus on non-credit courses, such as English language courses, Murillo said. Students in those courses are less likely to be able to take classes online, either because of insufficient internet and computer access or language barriers.

State re-enrollment funds are helping to boost spring enrollment, Murillo said. The college used some of the money for a re-enrollment event in December that brought back 150 students for spring. Students appreciate that 50 percent of the college’s courses will be in person, Murillo said. The college is also using part of the state funds to dole out $500 to select students to cover books and other school supplies.

Isolated idyll, a rural college perspective

College of the Siskiyous, the state’s northernmost community college located an hour from the Oregon border, also saw a modest rebound in the number of students attending last fall. Among students in credit-bearing classes, enrollment increased from around 1,300 to 1,400, a campus administrator said. That’s still below the 1,800 enrolled in credit-bearing courses in fall 2019.

The college has so far used about $36,000 of its re-enrollment money to print schedules and mail them out to its service area — roughly the size of Rhode Island. Administrators figured sending out physical copies of the course schedule would reach potential students in the rural north who either lacked reliable internet or were unaccustomed to online content. “That could have contributed to some of our enrollment growth,” said Char Perlas, interim superintendent/president of the college. 

It also plans to use much of its roughly $400,000 in re-enrollment and retention money as a down payment for an outreach department with three staffers, though the college will have to find other, ongoing sources of money to foot the bill.

But because the college is so isolated, it struggles to hire instructors, an ongoing problem that likely prevents the campus from enrolling more students. For instance, the college has an engineering degree, but there are semesters in which it offers no engineering courses, administrators said.

Re-enrollment success

More than just printed schedules or outreach, though, it’s likely just a consistent return to in-person learning that will boost enrollment. 

Expanded in-person learning and COVID-19 safeguards lured back Selena Johnson, a musical theater student. Before the pandemic cut the spring term short in 2020, Johnson was taking courses full-time. But the next 18 months of online instruction were a struggle.

“It was really hard to go from being excited about going on tour across the state — and being able to have that energy when we would meet up and learn together — to being completely isolated,” Johnson said.

She quit school last fall to work, unsure if she’d ever earn a degree. But the college’s commitment to COVID-19 safety precautions and the return of in-person choir classes brought her back to school this spring on a part-time basis. 

It’s a pace that works for her, and if she takes two classes next fall and two more the spring after, she’ll be able to graduate before summer of 2023.

“It was really hard to go from being excited about going on tour across the state…to being completely isolated.”

Selena Johnson, musical theater student

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Thursday, March 17, 2022

Short-term Fixes Won’t Really Solve California’s Teacher Shortage

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2022 at 5:41 PM

Rising first graders walk to their classroom at the start of the day during summer session at Laurel Elementary in Oakland on June 11, 2021. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
  • Rising first graders walk to their classroom at the start of the day during summer session at Laurel Elementary in Oakland on June 11, 2021.
Daniel Poulos worked as a custodian for Castro Valley Unified School District for 12 years. He became a familiar face at Redwood High, a school for at-risk youth, where he made sure the classrooms were clean and the lights stayed on.  

But in 2017, he got the chance to become a history teacher with the help of California’s Classified School Employee Credentialing Program, where he spent a year earning his teaching credential.  That year, California allocated $25 million in grant funding that would help non-teaching school staff become teachers in an effort to address a statewide shortage.

He said he had always expected to retire as a custodian. “But when the opportunity to teach arose, I jumped at it,” Poulos said.

State-funded teacher training programs continue to chip away at the dire teacher shortage in California, but they might not be enough to deal with the urgent, short-term needs. A January report by the Learning Policy Institute found that some of the state’s largest districts had 10 percent of vacancies still unfilled at the start of the new school year. One district had a quarter of its vacancies unfilled.

And not all districts are feeling the benefits of the state money. More remote, rural districts don’t have enough applicants for state grants, nor do they have four-year universities nearby to train educators. 

“We don’t have time for grant writing,” said Morgan Nugent, superintendent of Lassen Union High. “Our time is stretched making sure we have meals going to kids and educators in classrooms.”

Barret Snider, a lobbyist who represents school districts across California, said that he heard one superintendent compare the state’s grant programs to giving a Disneyland vacation to a family in poverty. 

“That’s nice,” Snider said. “But that’s not what we need.”

Since 2015, California has invested $4.8 billion in teacher recruitment, retention and training efforts, all designed to alleviate a chronic staff shortage that devolved into a crisis during the pandemic. That amount of money would pay one year’s salary for over 56,000 teachers earning the average salary for public school teachers in 2019-20. Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed spending $560 million more in next year’s budget. 

“We don’t have time for grant writing.”

Morgan Nugent, superintendent, Lassen Union High School District

While school districts consider these short-term grants a blessing, administrators say more permanent increases to education funding are necessary to help them pay the ongoing costs of teacher salaries and benefits. Teacher salaries can range from around $50,000 to about $100,000.  One of the bonuses of teaching are the long summer and holiday breaks.

Nicole DiRanna, who oversees a teacher training program at San Marcos Unified in San Diego County, said her district is doing the most it can within the restrictions of this state funding, but the obvious solution is to raise teachers’ pay. 

“The problem is the different types of state funding,” she said. “If we had it our way, we would just raise the salaries, right?”

A long-term exodus

The teacher shortage predates the pandemic. 

School districts had a tough time hiring teachers as they began recovering from the Great Recession and reinstating positions that had been cut, according to a 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute. Science, math, bilingual and special education teachers were in particularly high demand and the study projected that statewide, districts would need to hire about 300,000 teachers a year starting in 2018. 

“Prior to the pandemic, big drivers of shortages were significant decline in preparation, increased demand and teacher turnover,” said Tara Kini, the director of state policy at Learning Policy Institute. “In California, that accounts for 90% of the demand.”

While student enrollment also dropped at a faster pace during the pandemic than during previous years, teacher retirements and turnover were even bigger factors at some districts.

Since the start of the pandemic, teachers have been leaving the profession at a faster rate. The California Department of Education does not track statewide teacher turnover, but data from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System shows that retirements increased by 26 percent in the first year of the pandemic. According to a survey, 56 percent of retirees left due to the challenges of teaching during the pandemic.

California Teachers Association president E. Toby Boyd in a statement to CalMatters said teachers are “exhausted and burned out and are planning to leave the profession earlier than expected.

“If California is truly serious about providing every child with the education they deserve, addressing our teacher shortage should be the top priority of every district and our elected leaders right now,” he said.

School district administrators and union leaders across California agree that virtual instruction pushed many educators out of the profession for good. They also say teachers have been underappreciated during the pandemic.

“It’s bad, and it’s going to get worse,” said Matt Best, superintendent of Davis Joint Unified School District. “The trend has been in place for a better part of a decade. We have to fix some of these barriers.”

Proposed solutions to teacher shortage

One of those barriers is the cost of becoming a teacher. After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective educators need to spend an additional one or two years in school earning a credential and spend time as unpaid student teachers.

To help ease that burden, California has budgeted nearly $170 million since 2017 to help current public school employees who aren’t teachers earn teaching credentials. They can get up to $25,000 to help cover tuition, books and testing costs. The grants have so far produced 511 teachers and could generate up to 7,620 in the coming years. 

“We need our workforce to mirror our rural community, and it currently does not.”

Brooke Berrios, Fresno County Office of Education

At Davis Joint Unified, Best said his goal with this program was to diversify the district’s teachers with a labor force that would stay with the district for many years.

“These were people who were already invested in the community and in their schools,” he said. “The program is attractive to them because they’ve lived here for a generation.” 

The state has also offered school districts $350 million for teacher residency programs where college graduates receive stipends and are paired with mentor teachers, who  provide hands-on training.

In Fresno County, teaching “residents” work at rural schools while attending classes at local universities. After completing the two-year program, they’ll be considered first for job openings in their districts.

“We need our workforce to mirror our rural community,” said Brooke Berrios, who oversees the program for Fresno County Office of Education. “And it currently does not.” 

Berrios said early-career teachers typically work at these districts for a few years before leaving for a suburban district. It costs about $9,000 each time a district has to hire a new candidate — a significant bite for small rural districts.

“Historically these schools have been so underserved that they’ll take anybody,” Berrios said. “The cost of hiring isn’t always equitable.” 

More remote districts left out

Sometimes, the problem can be as simple as filling out the paperwork. 

Applications for state grants can be dozens of pages long and require several staff members to complete. If the district gets a grant, then staff must also oversee how the money is spent. It’s an issue that plagues rural districts such as Lassen Union High School District. 

Nugent, the superintendent of Lassen Union High, and his staff are already stretched thin, he said. Nugent himself regularly transports kids to and from school in a van.

“They benefit larger districts that have the manpower to apply for these grants,” he said. “There’s only so many hours in the day.”

The 800-student district, situated about 190 miles northeast of Sacramento, doesn’t have any four-year universities in its vicinity. Chico State is about 2 hours and over a hundred miles away.

“Chico graduates get hired in that community before we even have a chance to reach out to them,” Nugent said. “We don’t have access to highly qualified individuals.”

The district currently has openings for two teachers and three teaching aides, and Nugent said he’s not confident he’ll be able to fill them. On top of that, he says, Lassen Union High is one of the few districts in the state where student enrollment is growing. The district also kept schools open for most of the pandemic. 

Even so, Nugent said he feels like he’s getting little help from the state.

Snider, the lobbyist, said trying to address the staff shortage through one-time or even multi-year grant programs is unsustainable for districts. 

He said district administrators are cautious not to sound ungrateful for the grant money, but the state needs to increase continuous, overall funding for schools so districts can give teachers more competitive salaries and attract talented candidates. 

“You need to send ongoing money to schools,” Snider said. “Labor organizations and management share that perspective.” 

A promising future?

The 2021-22 state budget contained a historic amount for teacher training, recruitment and retention. One of the largest investments was an ongoing increase in funding to the state’s highest-need school districts, totalling $1.1 billion. Districts receiving this money,  must show how they’re using the money to hire more staff.

Anothing promising program, Kini of the Learning Policy Institute said, is the Golden State Teacher program, which would give college students up to $20,000 for committing to working at schools with the worst teacher shortages

While districts will likely continue feeling the pain as they wait for these grant programs to bear fruit, Kini said she’s optimistic about the long term. The data, she said, shows a correlation between the state grants and an uptick in teacher preparation. 

“We’re moving in the right direction,” she said.

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Monday, February 28, 2022

Rio Dell Schools Drop Masking Mandate Enforcement, Defying State Order

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2022 at 4:17 PM

  • Shutterstock
Well before California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today that the statewide order mandating masks in K-12 schools will expire in two weeks, Rio Dell Elementary School District had decided to go its own route.

The district’s board voted unanimously Feb. 17 to adopt a policy making plain its schools would not ask any questions of students who said they are exempt from masking orders due to exemptions for people with disabilities or pursue any disciplinary actions against students generally refusing to mask on campus.

“The Rio Dell Elementary School Board recognizes the importance of an academic rigorous classroom and also recognizes that constant mask reminders and reprimands during the instructional time can be disruptive to the learning environment,” reads a statement approved by the board Feb. 17. “The prevalence of COVID-19 has decreased dramatically and the community widely supports student choice. The Rio Dell School District will move forward with its continued focus on the academic instruction of our students and will encourage students to wear a mask indoors but will not seek disciplinary action for those students that do not comply.”

While Humboldt County let its masking mandate for fully vaccinated individuals in indoor, public spaces expire along with a similar statewide order earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to classify the county as “high” risk for COVID-19 transmission and, as such, continues to recommend everyone mask in indoor public settings, a recommendation local officials continue to echo. But pressure — already mounting for months — on school districts to drop masking requirements has ratcheted up considerably in the wake of  Newsom’s announcement that he would let the statewide masking order expire Feb. 15.

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California School Mask Mandate to End March 12

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2022 at 12:24 PM

All students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, will no longer be required to wear a mask indoors at schools and child care facilities starting March 12.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and California state health officials issued the order on Monday, nearly a month after they lifted the mandate for vaccinated people gathering in restaurants and other indoor spaces.

“I think the masks should be optional tomorrow on March 1st,” said Megan Bacigalupi, an Oakland parent who leads the group CA Parent Power. “I don’t understand the rationale of a further delay of another two weeks.”

Ending the mask mandate in schools comes almost exactly two years after the state first shut down schools in many districts in March 2020. Parents and students across California have been demanding the step be taken sooner. A handful of districts across California already lifted their mask mandates. 

“It seems like politics and the (California Teachers Association) are holding up my son’s chance of getting back to a normal school year,” said Scott Davison, a San Diego County parent. “I’m frustrated. I should be happier, but we’ve been fighting for months.”

But a recent poll found that 61% of parents with school-age children support school mask mandates. Lisa Gardiner, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association, denied the accusation from some parents that teachers unions delayed the lifting of the mask mandate.

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