Lessons from 2020 for a brave new year
By Dr. Edward C. Ortell
Citrus College Governing Board Member

With great challenges come great opportunities.” “Crisis brings out the best in people.”

There have been numerous times throughout history that put the truth of these sayings to the test, and 2020 was certainly one of them. In retrospect, we can safely conclude that these maxims passed a trial by fire with flying colors and will long endure as part of our lexicon.

As a lifelong participant and seasoned observer of the state and direction of community college education, I have often noted that this nimble academic paradigm mirrors the life and times of society. In assessing societal challenges and responses through the prism of higher education this past year, much has been learned.

To unsuspecting students and college educators, the year started off positive. Innovation was flourishing and the possibilities seemed endless. Students pursued training for high-tech, high-paying jobs of the future. Time- and cost-saving options, such as early college, a program where our local high school students simultaneously earn both high school and college credit, were becoming widely available and receiving high marks. Higher education was delivering good student outcomes in efficient, innovative ways and students were achieving success.

Then spring arrived, and with it a global pandemic. Suddenly, the conversation turned to the need for first responders, doctors and nurses, and the focus became ways to educate students in these fields as quickly and safely as possible. Local community college students were praised for their eagerness to take on the challenge and serve in a moment of tremendous need. At the same time, colleges and universities closed their doors to “stop the spread.”

Long recognized as leaders in online education, community colleges once again lead the way in developing courses and educational delivery systems that were safe and effective and would keep students on track to achieving their goals.

As the summer progressed, the message from educators to students was that, even though college campuses were closed, teaching and learning was still happening. Students were encouraged to not waste a year on inaction, but to seize the moment and earn a degree or certificate while they waited for the COVID-19 storm to pass.

This fall, thanks to tech-savvy students and innovative teachers, students are learning and achieving in some of the most unlikely programs using remote and hybrid instruction. These include performing arts, automotive technology, nursing and nearly all other disciplines across the curriculum.

COVID-19 will no doubt continue to impact us as 2021 unfolds. Rest assured that community colleges will continue to provide safe, effective and often exciting academic offerings, as we resolutely march forward into a brave new year. n

Dr. Edward C. Ortell is professor emeritus at Pasadena City College and a community college textbook author. He has served as the Executive Director of the Pasadena Education Association and as a member of the California Community College Trustees state board of directors.