By Erik Galicia
With scheduling for the fall 2021 semester already underway, faculty across the Riverside Community College District have voiced concerns at several Board of Trustees and Academic Senate meetings.
A Riverside City College email sent to faculty March 10 announced plans to return at 80% in-person instruction and 20% online instruction if pandemic conditions and government guidance allow for it. Scheduling aims to resemble what it was during the fall 2019 semester.
According to Susan Mills, RCC interim vice president of Academic Affairs, scheduling work already aimed to increase face-to-face offerings prior to the email being sent.
But questions began rolling in at the RCC Academic Senate meeting March 15 as instructors sought clarification on scheduling.
Elisabeth Thompson-Eagle, microbiology instructor, said a return to a fall 2019 schedule poses an issue of access.
“In our department, we will actually have to reduce offerings if we go 80%,” she said. “Because of the space issue for labs, doing them online means we’ve actually increased by largely our number of offerings.”
Kelly Douglass, English instructor, said returning to instruction as it was in the fall of 2019 is a transitional move, not one that acknowledges lessons learned during the pandemic. Instructors found that some classes work well online while teaching them throughout the pandemic, she said.
“It would be a lost opportunity to not grow from what we’ve learned,” she added.
Concerns continued during the public comment section at the Board of Trustees meeting March 16, as Norco College instructors asked the district to reconsider its campus reopening plans.
“I can’t believe this decision is being made without consulting instructors or students,” Norco College English instructor Jessica Dobson said in writing. “I am disappointed by the lack of forward thinking. What we have been through is an opportunity for growth and this attempt to return to normal is ignoring this opportunity for innovation and equity.”
Wolde-Ab Isaac, RCCD chancellor, argued during the board meeting that online instruction over the past year has negatively impacted access to education and that without an attempt to return to normalcy, the district will have trouble pulling itself out of its current enrollment decline.
RCCD enrollment has declined continuously since the fall 2020 semester, reaching double digit declines for the first time in the district’s history.
As of March 16, RCC was 14.2% below its target enrollment, while Norco and Moreno Valley Colleges were 22% and 32.6% below their targets, respectively. The district, 60% of which is Hispanic and 70% of which relies on the Board of Governors fee waiver, was 20.4% below its target.
“It is clear that our poor and needy students who need access to education most are disproportionately affected,” Isaac said.
The district’s budget is generated through apportionment of the full-time equivalency students RCCD produces. If the enrollment decline is not handled immediately, it could result in a more than 20% loss of revenue for the district, Isaac added.
“The implication of that to the fiscal health of the district cannot be viewed slightly,” he said. “Its consequences would certainly be grave.”
Administrators have advised that the current return plans are aspirational but are not set in stone.
Should pandemic conditions warrant it, Mills said the district is capable of shifting toward a more online schedule, as it did when campuses closed in March 2020.
Fall schedules will be finalized May 7 and posted online May 17.