Central California college students v. COVID-19 — Central Valley college presidents unite for joint strategies through higher ed consortium

Central California college students v. COVID-19

Central Valley college presidents unite for joint strategies through higher ed consortium


(March 24, 2020) – As the COVID-19 crisis disrupts daily life throughout the world including college campus life, Central California higher education leaders are virtually connecting via the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC) to help stabilize their students’ pursuit for higher education especially as they shift to online classroom environments.

In Zoom videoconferencing over the last two weeks, the presidents and chancellors of the 27 CVHEC-member accredited public and private colleges, universities and community college districts from San Joaquin to Kern counties have met to share strategies and challenges they face in light of the current pandemic. These presidents and chancellors make up the CVHEC Board of Directors.

“On these calls, presidents and chancellors have shared some resources that consortium member colleges and universities can use with their faculty and staff to address the need to move to a virtual platform for delivering instruction,” said Dr. Benjamin T. Duran, CVHEC executive director and Merced Community College president-emeritus.

The CVHEC board usually meets quarterly to strategize to increase the nine-county region’s certificate and degree attainment rates and to advocate for equity-driven strategies that reduce disparities in student persistence and completion rates, but recently mobilized CVHEC as a resource and called two emergency sessions — March 13 and 19 — to collaborate on COVID-19 response measures.

They have agreed to meet via Zoom weekly in response to the deadly Coronavirus outbreak that has spread swiftly throughout the world, Duran said.  The next is scheduled for Friday, March 27.

“The leadership of valley institutions of higher ed are uniting together with a common goal: to help provide calm and stability for students, faculty and staff during this upheaval in their lives,” Duran said after the CVHEC board’s second emergency session last Thursday.  “They want to assure students that we all are doing everything we can to find valid solutions and deliver the higher education they expect while helping flatten the curve against the coronavirus outbreak. The ultimate goal is to help all to remain safe and healthy.”

In addition to the weekly CVHEC Board COVID-19 Zoom meetings, the consortium will present a Zoom webinar next week, March 30, featuring experienced online faculty from the various colleges thrust into the role of online mentor to support fellow faculty members as they transition to a virtual classroom.

Like many other convenings (usually live) hosted by CVHEC, this webinar highlights the unique role CVHEC provides. Founded in 2002 under the leadership of then-Fresno State President John D. Welty to increase higher education participation in the region, CVHEC today serves the presidents, chancellors and other administrators of public and independent colleges and universities in California’s Central Valley that provide higher education services to over 4 million persons.

And, while the public sees that their local colleges transition to remote instruction in response to COVID-19 including some canceling major events like commencement celebrations, many more challenges are presented behind the scenes as the institutions seek to help students find a balance between earning a degree and navigating this public health crisis.

At the first meeting held March 13, requested by Merced Community College President Chris Vitelli, the CEOs briefed each other on their respective campus’ status up to that point and CVHEC compiled a list of links to each campus COVID-19 web page to share ideas and resources (see below).

Through CVHEC’s technical support contractor, The Charles A. Dana Center at University of Texas at Austin, online resources have been made available to CVHEC-member institutions. Resources include white papers and other teaching tools with such titles as “How to Help Students Keep Learning Through a Disruption,” “9 Resources for When Coronavirus Moves Your Course Online,” “Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption,” and “Preparing for Emergency Online Teaching.”

At the March 19 Zoom Meeting, requested by San Joaquin Delta College President Omid Pourzanjani, the CEOs updated their rapidly changing status and shared challenges such as:

  • Online/remote – Preparing students and faculty for the online environment. Face to face instruction is a preferred mode of learning, but in the new environment everyone is challenged with learning the new modality. Faculty already experienced with teaching online for some time are rising to the occasion as leaders to serve as online mentors. Students are also being provided tutorials on how to learn online.
  • Crisis-relevant programs – Community colleges are key to providing nursing, police, fire and EMT training and certification. Online training for these programs is a challenge and the colleges are keeping these programs running by request of the institutions (hospitals, police departments, cities) that are in need of the qualified work force. The colleges are working to re-arrange calendars or implementing creative solutions;
  • Laptops – Colleges have found that laptops orders are backlogged by a few months and they seek support from each other for large volume purchasing arrangements resulting in lower unit costs and expedient delivery to better meet student needs.
  • Wi-Fi Hotspots – Online classes require more Wi-Fi access. Some campuses have extended their capacity to their school parking lots for Wi-Fi access, especially in rural communities where broadband is scarce. Several have purchased additional hotspots, such as Fresno State’s order for 1,500 hotspots with plans to order more.
  • Commencement – cancellations of graduation celebrations have already been announced at the three California State University campuses in the valley wide consortium (Bakersfield, Fresno and Stanislaus), as well as UC Merced and Fresno Pacific University while community colleges are reviewing options. Some are exploring other ways to celebrate their students’ academic achievements.

Duran said this ongoing collaboration by the  leaders of the valley’s academic institutions during such a crisis is inspiring:  “As they have done on many issues in the past, these CEOs are pulling together to make sure their current students’ academic needs and general well-being, as well as faculty and staff, are not compromised.”

Additional information and CVHEC updates are available at www.cvhec.org or Facebook or Twitter (@CVHEC_).


MEDIA NOTE: A list of links showing how the Central Valley’s colleges are responding to the COVID-19 crisis is provided below.  For follow up or for a media availability with Dr. Ben Duran, please call/text Tom Uribes at 559.348.3278 or tom@uribes.com).

ABOUT CVHEC — The Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC) is a 501(c)3 incorporated non-profit organization comprised of accredited public and private colleges, universities, and community college district members. CVHEC serves as the convener and facilitator of technical support experts as needed by members and executes the policy objectives of the CVHEC Board that is made up of presidents, chancellors and other administrators of all public and independent colleges and universities in California’s Central Valley. A key objective is to increase the Central Valley’s degree attainment. The organization also works closely with legislative leaders as an advocate for the higher education policy positions of the CVHEC board such as state legislation ordered in the California Community Colleges (AB 705) and system mandates in the California State University system (Executive Order 1110) that are forecast to create equitable opportunities for students (especially among Latino and Black students).

CVHEC Members COVID-19 Update Websites