Coronavirus Happens, College Can’t Wait

May 26, 2020
BY KELLY KING, SENIOR PROGRAM OFFICER, EDUCATION & LOS ANGELES SCHOLARS INVESTMENT FUND

The start of summer is usually a time to celebrate college graduations and academic achievements—but this year it’s different due to the coronavirus pandemic. As physical campuses closed to adhere to social distancing, students and faculty had to quickly adapt to virtual classrooms and a pause in many campus-based services. While much of the national attention focused on impacts to residential four-year campuses, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has been especially challenging for community college students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities within the postsecondary education systems. As teaching and learning transferred to virtual formats, and physical campuses that often provide access to health care services, housing, technology, and food began to close, challenges further mounted for low-income, undocumented and underrepresented students. Too many students were already struggling to afford the financial and time resource costs of a postsecondary education.

For most students, the financial cost of their education increased due to the pandemic. Tuition and fees were rarely waived or reduced, on and off-campus employment opportunities eliminated and additional expenses were added such as new technology needs. Further, challenges were compounded by loss of other critical services at this time, including access to childcare and daily school-meals for postsecondary students who are parents themselves.

Even before COVID-19, many community college students juggled school with full-time jobs or caring for small children. Too many lack access to food, stable housing and technology. In fact, half of California’s community college students struggle to buy food; a majority have trouble paying the rent and one in five are homeless. This is even more pronounced for vulnerable populations. Rates of food insecurity among African American, Black or American Indian/Native students exceed 60%. Transgender students have the highest rates of homelessness at 37%, approximately double the rate of other students. Additionally, nearly half of all students in our nation’s community colleges are parents; many who are women and are often single parents.

The safety net that kept many underserved students in community colleges was thin before the outbreak hit—and for many, it could collapse entirely as the coronavirus crisis continues. The success of our community colleges is critical to our collective wellbeing, especially in the era of COVID-19. California community colleges train 80% of all our firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and emergency medical technicians. Additionally, 70% of California nurses received their education at a California community college. The motto of CCF’s RUSH Fund, “Life Happens, College Can’t Wait” is more important than ever.

Investing in the next generation of college students

Student grab-and-go meals at Rio Hondo College

CCF believes in investing in our community colleges and the hundreds of thousands of students they serve in L.A. County. Well before COVID-19, we have developed and supported efforts to assist students not only access a college education but allow them to thrive and be successful in achieving their goals—especially young men of color and undocumented individuals thru our Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund (LASIF). Other initiatives, including the Hahn Scholars and Relief from Urgent Student Hardship (RUSH) Fund, directly invest in local programs and colleges to expand student success.

Through these programs, we have been able to build upon past successes and pivot, when needed, to offer new and additional resources to keep students in school during the coronavirus outbreak and the economic upheaval it has brought. A few examples:

  • When Rio Hondo College needed to quickly shift to distance learning, they leveraged the resources of the Hahn Scholars, a partnership supported by L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, program to ensure that all students had access to laptops and other essential technology tools.
  • We’ve leveraged the RUSH Fund to cover non-tuition expenses that are critical to student safety, wellbeing and success. Through our nonprofit partners including the Bresee Foundation, College Match and One Voice—students in need are provided modest, direct grants to help with the sudden challenges COVID-19 has brought, such as, childcare support, medical needs and internet access. Through the generosity of CCF donors and partners, we’ve been able to provide more than $1 million in new resources to students through the RUSH Fund network.
  • Lastly, through a series of grants totaling $225k to the LA Community College District (LACCD), emergency grants are provided to students and families facing hardship as a result of COVID-19. LACCD can quickly and efficiently provide relief funds via mobile bank debit cards that do not require any in-person human to human contact.

Building a path to stability for our future graduates

The virus has shown us first-hand the importance of those employed on the frontline; our medical technicians, healthcare workers, first-responders and educators who are trained and educated at our community colleges. As we respond to the emergency needs of today, CCF is thinking about how our collective recovery efforts can ensure that the challenges our community college students faced even before the pandemic can be addressed in the future. That’s why we’re also investing in the infrastructure of our research and advocacy partners. New grants to Immigrants Rising, RISE, The Hope Center, TICAS, uAspire and Young Invincibles complement our long-time support of EdTrust West and the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Through research, campaigns, policy briefs and other advocacy efforts, they are effectively influencing COVID-19 response activities at the federal, state, and institutional policy levels. Examples include the allocation of CARES Act funding to colleges and universities, considerations of public higher education needs within the state budget, and advocacy at the individual campus level regarding housing, fee, and grading policies. They are each hyper-focused on centering the voices of current students, often with students in key leadership roles.

By supporting both immediate student needs and a stronger network of advocates, CCF is striving to ensure the continued success of community college students today and the rebuilding of a more resilient, responsive student-centered system into the future.

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