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Better together at Lake Tahoe Community College (Opinion)

Jeff DeFranco
Guest column

What a difference a year makes.

At this time last year, staff, faculty, students, and guests were together to hear the State of the College address in Lake Tahoe Community College’s Duke Theatre, as is our tradition. It’s a gathering that informs, celebrates the past year’s accomplishments, and kicks off the new academic year with everyone embracing the same big efforts, all moving forward together for our students and community. This year, we informed and celebrated, but from a safe distance, with a virtual event.

Before I share some of the college’s accomplishments and news from my recent address, I’d like to thank every staff and faculty member for their hard work and loyalty to our students in ensuring that quality education continues at LTCC, even in the midst of a pandemic. We got Winter quarter finals wrapped up in March and spring courses moved entirely online in just a few, short weeks as the campus, state and country shut down. It was a monumental effort you all should be rightly proud of. LTCC is truly better together, a most fitting title for this year’s address, perfectly capturing what we are capable of even when we’re physically forced apart by COVID-19.

To our students who stuck with their educational plans and continue to improve their lives through education in daunting times, I hope your academic success tastes that much sweeter from your incredible efforts. In the years to come, remember that you did this, and that you have the confidence and fortitude to do so much more.

GRANTS, PROGRAMS, CAREERS

• Thanks to a $480,000 state grant plus another $350,000 in local agency funding, LTCC will launch a Forestry program offering stackable certificates and an associate degree, all leading to viable careers with the United States Forest Service and Cal Fire. This not only paves the way for educating more professionals to keep the Tahoe Basin safer from wildfire, but also creates a local pipeline to good-paying jobs found here.

• LTCC submitted plans to the state for the Lake Tahoe Basin Public Safety Training Center, a proposed facility providing training space for Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy cadets and for working fire professionals around the region seeking ongoing education. With plans now submitted and the purchase of a new mobile training tower in pocket, LTCC is well poised to pursue state bond funding to make this facility a reality.

• LTCC took in $2.75 million in 2019/20 through various grant efforts, significantly outpacing grant funding for all prior years. This is money that can help shore LTCC up in the midst of a developing economic crisis and allow us to continue doing noteworthy big things at our small college.

Meeting student needs

Community college students often struggle to meet basic needs, making their academic endeavors even more challenging. That’s never been more true than now. LTCC is working to meet all student needs, even those needs found beyond the (virtual) classroom:

• LTCC has greatly expanded its Food Pantry, providing basic nutrition and hygiene products to students in need so hunger is not a hindrance to their college ambitions.

• Access to technology, always a barrier to success, is even more pronounced now in our primarily virtual educational environment. LTCC is reducing that barrier by providing free Chromebook and Wi-Fi hotspot loaners along with student Wi-Fi access in the college’s parking lot. We are expanding the availability of free online textbooks and course materials in more classes, along with our physical textbook lending library, so these costs don’t get in students’ way.

• The Lake Tahoe College Promise, a program providing up to three years of free tuition plus loads of wraparound, personalized support for first-time, full-time students, is seeing huge success. Data show our Promise students are persisting in their studies at rates well above the general college population’s, and we anticipate seeing higher graduation rates from this cohort as well. A debt-free college education can make all the difference. And it’s available on both sides of the border in the basin, for residents and dreamers too.

• When community colleges want to understand if students are succeeding, fall-to-winter persistence rates and data on first-year completion of transfer-level math and english courses are two key data points we examine. These rates are up for all LTCC students, with both our Latinx and Promise students exceeding their peers — a sure sign that the extra support and new programs that are removing barriers for our students are having a positive effect and are likely to result in improved graduation rates. Community at our core

A major part of my address focused on LTCC’s evolving role in supporting our community during the pandemic and its related economic crisis. We take the first “C” in LTCC’s name seriously, and we envision new ways every day to better support our community and provide space and resources to weather the worst of what we’re all witnessing. A few highlights:

• LTCC’s Physical Education building will continue to serve as a COVID-19 testing site for as long as possible. We stand ready to continue to make our facilities available however they are needed to assist in the response to the COVID crisis. We will also be serving as an election day vote center, continuing our long tradition of supporting local democracy.

• LTCC is helping tackle the local trash problem by partnering with Clean Tahoe to help clear debris from a number of long-neglected areas around town. LTCC will continue to do its part by performing regular trash pickups in the meadow behind the college, along Trout Creek.

• With the support of Measure F funds, we broke ground on the Early Learning Center this year, the future home of the Tahoe Parents Nursery School. This longstanding educational institution will finally have a beautiful, permanent home on LTCC’s campus right next to the Child Development Center.

• The South Tahoe Greenway Shared-Use Trail, the result of a land-swapping and resource sharing partnership with LTCC, the California Tahoe Conservancy and the city of South Lake Tahoe, is nearing completion. This trail connecting the Sierra Tract neighborhood to Van Sickle Bi-State Park is certainly great for recreators, but also encourages residents and visitors to get on their bikes or walk rather than consume fossil fuel with their cars. This new trail connects LTCC to a number of neighborhoods, providing students and staff a clean and green way of getting to and from campus.

The Future

While we don’t have a crystal ball, we know that students (staff and faculty too) benefit from being able to plan ahead and have a sense of security and dependability in their lives. With that in mind we have made these decisions:

• Fall quarter at LTCC is predominantly online. Staff and faculty are mostly working remotely through at least December 2020. Some classes are offered as traditional online classes, while others have been redesigned as Enhanced Virtual Education offerings, or EVE. These provide more of the structure and interaction typically found in face-to-face classes. A few classes with an in-person requirement will be offered as hybrids with strict distancing and safety measures in place when in-person instruction occurs.

• Winter quarter (Jan. 6 – March 26, 2021) will look very much like fall, with classes primarily offered online and most staff and faculty working remotely.

• A decision about spring quarter (April 5 – June 24, 2021) will come early next year.

• The focus will be on bringing back crucial student support areas first, including the library and computer lab.

• Staff and faculty will return in phases to LTCC’s campus before students do. We will continue to operate as a modified “closed campus” until then, with community events, meetings, and performances on hold until it is safe to resume them.

LTCC has a lot on its plate for 2020/21. Yet we are still taking on one more effort, perhaps the most important one, which we started in late May following the death of George Floyd. LTCC is joining communities and institutions across the country in taking a hard look at ourselves, and taking concrete steps to end institutional racism and systematic oppression on our campus and community wherever it may exist.

We invite our community to join us as LTCC reads Ibram X. Kendi’s, “How to Be an Antiracist” together. We can all take a part in leading Lake Tahoe to a more just and equitable future. It’s just one more way this community and college can show that we are truly better together.

Jeff DeFranco is the superintendent/president at LTCC.


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