Foothill College will continue to operate online for the summer and fall quarters with limited exceptions, officials from the Los Altos Hills community college announced during a virtual town hall on Thursday.
The exceptions will be made for students in health programs who need some in-person training to complete their degrees, including for dental hygiene, paramedic, radiologic technology, pharmacy technologist, respiratory therapy and veterinary technology. The community college is gathering personal protective equipment and developing protocols to allow certain health students, faculty and staff to return to campus this summer.
Many of the state's 115 community colleges have announced they'll continue with online instruction in the fall, while many other colleges and universities continue to debate a mix of virtual and in-person instruction. California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley said this week that he's encouraging community colleges to remain online for the fall and that he "fully believe(s) that that will be the most relevant way for us to continue to reach our students and to do it in a way that commits to maintaining equity for our students."
During the May 21 town hall, administrators discussed Foothill's transition to online instruction — which was already underway before Santa Clara County's shelter-in-place order, President Thuy Nguyen said, but still required significant investment and adjustment on the part of students and faculty.
A survey administered this spring showed students' top three "significant concerns" that could prevent them from remaining enrolled and/or being successful in their classes are technology, mental health and a place to study. Foothill quickly created an emergency relief fund which through donations provided 250 Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots to students without technology access at home. Foothill also doubled the amount of weekly gift cards provided to students for basic needs, such as food, Nguyen said.
The community college also created a virtual "hub" for students, some of whom have never taken online courses before, to receive technology support from other students who have been hired as technology ambassadors, Nguyen said. Two student-ambassadors staff a drop-in Zoom room and are available to answer other students' tech-related questions. Foothill created a similar hub for teachers and is also providing training on online teaching.
Foothill is also offering virtual, drop-in tutoring to students on Zoom, both one-on-one and in groups.
The survey indicated that students' mental well-being has worsened during the pandemic, administrators said. For mental health awareness week, the community college's psychological services team planned training to help faculty and staff recognize and respond to signs of depression and suicide and brought in experts to speak to students. Like the technology ambassadors, Foothill also hired four students who plan to work in the mental health field to be wellness ambassadors to offer workshops and support to their peers.
The third need students expressed on the survey — lacking a place to study — has been harder to address, said Associate Vice President of Student Services Laurie Scolari. She said this is most acute among former foster youth who are now living with families who they might not feel comfortable with.
"Nothing's open. Libraries aren't open. They're living in homes where there's not a quiet space for them," Scolari said. "We are still struggling with that one."
With many students facing unemployment during the shutdown, Foothill is also focusing on offering short-term skills classes, including cloud computing, web design and a pharmacy aide and technician pathway programs.
The community college also has reached out to local K-12 school districts whose campuses are closed, including Palo Alto Unified and the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, "to basically say, 'How can we help you?'" Nguyen said.
Enrollment in Foothill's dual enrollment program, which allows high school students to take the community college's classes for free, increased by 40% in the spring quarter.
Foothill is also fielding an "influx" of phone calls from local high school seniors, and their parents, who have decided to defer their admission to four-year colleges given uncertainty related to the coronavirus and plan to attend Foothill instead, Simon Pennington, interim associate vice president of community relations, marketing and communications, wrote in an email after the town hall.
Foothill also helped the alternative Middle College program for local high schoolers, which is housed at the community college, make the transition online. While unplanned, the shift to virtual will have an unexpected benefit for the program, which was slated to double its capacity this fall in response to increased demand, said Kristy Lisle, Foothill's executive vice president of instruction and student services.
Foothill is also working with graduating students — the community college's 60th graduating class — to plan a virtual commencement ceremony for June.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.