For Fullerton College chemistry major Kyle Chen, online classes were tough. Doing laboratory experiments without a beaker in hand didn’t feel natural, but the pandemic left him with no choice.
After taking online classes for over a year, he will finally return to a classroom in August.
“Next fall, I’ll probably have a biology class in person. I’m delighted to see how it’s going, ”Chen said.
While officials at Fullerton College are not yet ready to bring everyone back, they are adding more in-person courses to the course catalogs for the fall semester.
Other community colleges in Orange County are taking similar approaches: welcoming some students in the fall and hoping for a full reopening in the spring. Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa begins with offering a quarter of its classes on campus, while Saddleback College in Mission Viejo will hold nearly half of its classes in person.
Social distancing measures limit the ability of colleges to fully reopen – officials have cited student safety as their main concern. While details are still being finalized, students returning to school this fall should expect to still wear masks and sit in desks that are several feet apart.
The goal shared by college officials is to bring back students whose fields of study are not easily adapted to the Zoom sphere.
Many students choose community colleges for their vocational and technical education programs, earning certificates that launch them directly into the workforce. It is difficult to gain adequate practical experience for jobs in automotive technology, paramedical health, or cosmetology online. School officials have therefore said they are prioritizing programs such as those for in-person classes this fall.
“You know, you really can’t take an online building course,” said Juan Gutierrez, director of marketing and public relations at Orange Coast College. “You have to be practical, so throughout the pandemic, even at the start, we were still teaching some classes in person when possible. “
Higher education enrollments have plummeted across the country in the past year – 603,000 fewer students enrolled in spring 2021 than in 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center – as many students have tried to juggle family obligations, pandemic setbacks, and college classes at all. once. Orange County community colleges have not been spared.
“During the pandemic, we found that students stopped coming because they have huge responsibilities in their lives that they have to take on, whether it’s helping their younger siblings or putting food on the table, ”said Lisa McPhéron, Fullerton’s director of communications.
Fullerton College saw a 3.6% drop in course enrollment compared to the 2019-20 academic year. Practical classes in areas such as physical education and fine arts saw a 15% drop. Where the college has grown, it was social science and business courses that most easily converted to online formats.
“I actually know a lot of people, they were in the STEM field, but once the pandemic hit, they decided to take a social science or a business path,” Chen said. “I understand perfectly.”
Because social sciences and humanities courses do not have lab components, they are not a priority for in-person learning, officials from several Orange County community colleges said.
But students in these subjects are not forgotten either, officials said. They always receive online support.
Clarissa Hernandez, who specialized in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on social behavior and personal development at Fullerton College, said she was able to take advantage of the extensive virtual services her school now offers.
“I remember writing tutoring was only available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but when the pandemic hit it was available all the time,” she said.
Hernandez is also the 2021 State Softball Champion. The Fullerton College team returned to in-person training in March – just in time for players to find their rhythm before the season begins in April..
Prior to that, Hernandez and his teammates met on Zoom for virtual workouts. She said she especially enjoyed bonding with them despite her absence from the field.
“It was so much bigger than the game,” she said. “We would all stand back and talk about our issues and our connections during one of the most difficult times of our lives.”
And those pandemic-induced virtual services that Hernandez relied on, such as online tutoring, academic counseling and telehealth, will likely stick around once all students are back on campus, the vice-president said. Orange Coast Education President Michelle Grimes-Hillman. Officials at several county community colleges have confirmed online student services are popular during the shutdown.
“When we bring back students for the fall, we also bring back our services in person,” said Grimes-Hillman. “But we will also continue to provide remote services. We will give our students access to anything that meets their needs.
And while the pandemic world remains riddled with change, Chen said he looks forward to returning to Fullerton College this fall. He looks forward to reconnecting with his peers, especially those who haven’t joined him in the virtual classroom in the past school year.
“I know a lot of people choose to take their time, and that’s great,” he said. “There’s no rush, being in community college, as long as you have that motivation and stick with your classes, that’s all that matters.”