Year in review at Lake Tahoe Community College (Opinion)

Jeff DeFranco
Guest column

A year ago, I wrote a column for the Tribune about how Lake Tahoe Community College began 2020 on an historic rise. Measure F bond monies were vastly improving our classrooms and campus, enrollment was up, our Promise program expanded to provide up to three years tuition-free, and successful grant efforts were bringing in even more dollars to expand crucial services and provide vital support to our students. Many of these positives still exist, and more have been added, but just about everything else has changed.

LTCC started 2020 full of promise for our students and community. Then, we shut down in the face of a global pandemic in mid-March and had to quickly scramble to continue the business of providing education in our new, remote world. Then, we stood witness to the murder of George Floyd and joined a chorus of rising voices demanding social justice and institutional change for our nation, and most importantly in our own backyard. We all saw the pandemic increasingly and horribly affect our community’s economic outlook and availability of jobs. And just as the pandemic’s negative effects peaked, we watched as our government came under attack and our democracy was challenged in a way we’ve never seen before.

The Role of Higher Education

All of the major issues we are grappling with – the pandemic and resulting economic crisis, the attack on our democracy and elections, the continuing racial injustices and growing calls to fundamentally address them – can be aided and improved through education.

Higher education is a portal for being better informed and prepared to deal with and understand these problems, and many others. LTCC is a pathway to a career, but it is also, at its core, a place where you have the tools and space to develop into an informed and engaged citizen.

Take any class at LTCC, and you’ll learn critical thinking skills and how to apply them to your studies and your life, how to find quality sources for information, and how to question and dig deeper.

In LTCC science classes, you learn about the scientific method, about viruses and how they evolve, and how vaccines work. Students are shown that scientific information can and does change, and thinking must also change as new facts come in.

In our Political Science classes, you learn about civics, how our fragile democracy works, why it’s worth preserving, and how it functions when it’s healthy.

In our classes, you are exposed to the benefits of diversity. You’ll learn how other people who are different from you conduct their lives and contribute to societies everywhere on our planet.

LTCC and colleges like it are places that shine a light on ignorance and provide the foundation for smart, creative ideas and ingenuity to be born. We hope you see this value too.

2020 Key Accomplishments

In 2020, LTCC added and enhanced many programs designed to support individuals looking to improve their careers. We’ve added more short-term certificates that get students educated and prepared for viable work sooner. With these additional certificate options and stackable classes in place, students can get what they need to earn a bookkeeper or real estate certificate in nine months.

We are also in the process of building a new Forestry program leading to stackable certificates, an Associate degree, and skills that prepare students for employment in the United State Forest Service and Cal Fire. Visit here to learn more.

These are just some of the efforts providing opportunities for community members seeking new, more promising career pathways quickly.

With even more support services now in place, many of our students are finding they can continue and succeed in their studies, despite the difficulties they’re facing. While it may be tempting for students to quit and wait for a better day, data show they have mostly stuck with their studies at LTCC. The number of first-time, full-time students returning to LTCC went up by 3% from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020, compared with Fall 2018 to Fall 2019. Despite the pandemic, the number of students persisting from Fall quarter 2020 to Winter quarter 2021 held steady.

In addition to persistence, LTCC students are seeing record levels of academic achievement. During the 2019-20 academic year, students completed transfer-level English and math classes at higher rates than ever before, even while dealing with the complexities of online learning.

First-year completion of gateway classes is a key indicator of eventual degree completion for students. The percentage of students achieving this milestone in their first academic year doubled last year. This is a remarkable outcome that our students should rightly be quite proud of – they’re doing very well despite the long odds.

LTCC’s student support efforts address everything from basic needs to mental health to school supplies and academic financial support. Last year, we responded to the campus closure by quickly purchasing and making available Chromebooks and wifi hotspot loaners, and free exterior campus wifi access.

Another successful grant is allowing us to expand LTCC’s Food Panty to provide even more to food-insecure students. We’ve added a mental health specialist to meet the needs of students beyond academic advising. In these and many more ways, LTCC is making it a bit easier for our students to hang in there and succeed.

A Look Ahead:

For 2021, we maintain our optimism: for Tahoe, and for our nation. That’s not easily achieved but we know that education is the best hope we have for getting out of our national crises and for providing hope of a better future.

Last year was certainly difficult, but it led us to take a hard look at ourselves and make real improvements at LTCC that matter. We are focusing on enhancing diversity, inclusivity, and equity on our campus, and we are making changes to how we operate based on our findings. We are updating recruitment and hiring practices and taking steps leading to a more diverse pool of applicants for open positions, hopefully resulting in a more diverse and representative staff and faculty.

The inequities that have existed in America for decades are now all being brought into sharp detail, and as a community college, we embrace continual improvement. LTCC has a role to play in identifying inequities and practices that limit educational access and eradicating them on our campus and in our community.

I am optimistic that brighter days are ahead, and all of us at LTCC eagerly await the day we can safely welcome back our students and the community to campus. We hope you will continue to be our partners in all of our efforts to better inform and educate our little part of the world. Give us a visit here and see what we’re accomplishing for yourself.

Jeff DeFranco has served as superintendent/president of Lake Tahoe Community College since January 2017. He can be contacted at

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