LTCC creating support, opportunities students can count on (Opinion)
Somehow, thanks to a whole lot of staff and faculty dedication, Lake Tahoe Community College made it to the start of a new school year like no other in our 47-year history.
We’ve got blue skies and clear air once again after weeks of air quality indexes in the hundreds, and a whole year and a half of uncertainty, constant change, and stress caused by the pandemic. We are back on campus serving our students in person again thanks to the extraordinary efforts of first responders and fire crews who kept the Caldor Fire from devastating our community. So before anything else, a deeply felt thank you from everyone at our college to all of the first responders who work to keep our community from catastrophe.
The challenges continue, however. Our South Shore community and our students need an even higher level of support right now. To ensure this help is targeted and effective, LTCC is adjusting how we enroll students, how we communicate with them, and how we support them every step of the way. We all have experienced collective trauma, and some of us are facing real economic hardship as well. Our college’s compassion is required. Help is wanted and needed, and LTCC is ready and prepared to deliver it.
Here are some of the highlights I shared during my annual State of the College address last week that directly speaks to the support and opportunities we are creating that our students and community can count on.
More free financial support than ever
Perhaps the most impactful news I shared in my address was this: through federal funding, LTCC has forgiven up to $1,000 of college debt for any student enrolled with us during the pandemic. COVID impacted LTCC students in multiple ways, leaving many unable to pay outstanding fees and tuition.
In years past, they’d be kept from re-enrolling until the debt was resolved. With this new debt relief program in place, our former students can trust that debt of up to $1,000 has already been removed from their LTCC accounts, freeing them up to register and return to their studies. If you have questions or you owe more than $1,000 and need help resolving it, please contact LTCC’s Vice President of Student Services Michelle Batista at email@example.com, or call 530-541-4660 ex.750.
LTCC also launched an Emergency Student Wildfire Relief Fund that provided $250 in emergency awards for those who live or work in the Caldor Fire evacuation zone and who experienced unexpected out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages during the mandatory evacuation. If you’d like to donate to this fund and support financially impacted students, please visit http://www.ltcc.edu/giving. This fund was able to award approximately $40,000 to 160 students in need.
LTCC is also providing CARES Grants of up to $750 for new students and up to $500 for continuing students impacted by COVID. As of June 2021, LTCC awarded 524 CARES grants worth $306,000 to students, and funds are still being awarded and will be available to students throughout the entire 2021-22 academic year.
New, expanded programs for fire prevention and career opportunities
More support for LTCC’s Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy (http://www.ltcc.edu/fire) and its cadets is in the works. All 19 of LTCC’s Fire Academy graduates from June 2021 were on the ground fighting the Caldor Fire, along with dozens of alums, support staff, and faculty members from the program. Their critical work deserves optimal support.
Momentum and the funding to build a Tahoe Basin Public Safety Training Center on LTCC’s campus is moving forward at the state level. The center will provide the equipment and training space to educate future Fire Academy cadets and emergency professionals from around the Tahoe Basin. California senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla are both supporting a federal budget request for $270,000 in new training equipment to further support LTCC’s Fire Academy with as well.
A new Forestry program (http://www.ltcc.edu/forestry) leading to stackable certificates and an Associate in Science degree launches in Fall 2022, providing direct pathways to jobs with the Forest Service and Cal Fire. Students will learn the science behind how forests burn, how they become more resilient, and they will gain the knowledge necessary to increase active forest management around Lake Tahoe and the western United States. Our forestry students will be educated on the best management practices that contributed to keeping the Caldor Fire away from homes in our area. This program will meet our community’s crucial workforce needs and will provide preparedness for any future wildfires in our community and beyond.
LTCC is also focusing on new support for “stopped out” adult students who have some college credits earned, but no degree or certificate to show for it. LTCC’s new Reconnect to Complete program identifies former students who are in this position, and provides the support they need to return and complete their educational goals as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The program includes credits for prior learning, which involves reviewing and awarding college credits for skills students learned while in the workplace. Returning students may discover that they are much closer to earning a degree than they realize.
Major grant dollars coming to campus
LTCC was just awarded nearly $5 million for a five-year Hispanic Serving Institution grant from the U.S. Department of Education. This funding will support Latino/a/x and low-income students in the Tahoe Basin, providing a solid foundation for those pursuing Science,
Technology, Engineering or Math degree and transfer pathways. The grant will provide students with wraparound, evidence-based academic and support services through the creation of a STEM Student Success Team working to improve access to and completion of STEM programs. It will also create a pipeline of students interested in pursuing STEM fields through the establishment of the LTCC Pre-Collegiate STEM Academy. More to come on these exciting new opportunities for future students.
LTCC also secured a two-year Dual Enrollment Grant worth $1.5 million to support even more LTUSD students in earning college credits at LTCC while still in high school. An additional five-year Trio Talent Search grant from the Department of Education will also serve 500 students annually at South Tahoe Middle School, South Tahoe High School, and Mt. Tallac High School, helping low-income students to graduate high school and enroll in college.
These are just some of the highlights from my State of the College address. To hear about all of the great news and achievements LTCC has seen in the past year, you can view the entire speech at http://www.ltcc.edu/soca.
Jeff DeFranco is president and superintendent of Lake Tahoe Community College.
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