03/19/2021 Message from the Chancellor: COVID-19 Response Timeline Update

The following message is being sent on behalf of Dr. Stuart Van Horn, Chancellor of the West Hills Community College District:

Good afternoon.  One year ago, we shifted to primarily remote delivery of services by employees to our students and have worked together with our students under extraordinary circumstances.  Today, our interest and need is to get employees back on campus.

Over the past three weeks, the district has communicated frequently of increasing opportunities for COVID-19 vaccinations as a result of daily communications with public and private health care agencies, providers, and clinics.  Our return to campus plan hinges on a majority of employees observing public health guidelines and getting the vaccine.  Encouragingly, COVID-19 cases in our region are on the decline (currently the same level as August 1, 2020); access to vaccinations for employees has increased substantially; and confirmed cases have slowed greatly since a spike in cases upon return from winter break.

Enrollment for 2021-22 is of great concern.  So far, there aren’t many signs of an enrollment turnaround for fall 2021.  As I’m sure you’ve seen, our high school outreach numbers are considerably lower than in the past, with fewer overall applicants in the lead up to this week’s launch of priority registration groups and fewer students qualifying for priority registration as well:

FAFSA (financial aid) applications mirror this trend.  Consequences of this year’s enrollment plunge could reverberate broadly, affecting not only individual districts like West Hills but the economy at large.  If thousands of students miss out on the earnings boost that comes with a college degree, state and federal revenues shrink, spending on social programs rise, and shortage of skilled labor will worsen.  This return of personnel with student recruitment obligations is particularly vital given many high school seniors are in the midst of reviewing financial aid award letters and choosing among colleges.  It’s when many first-generation students lean on us the most.  For this year’s high school graduating class, the coronavirus couldn’t have come at a worst time as many of this year’s seniors never got a chance to meet our staff and faculty face to face.  The sudden drop, which followed years of progress in raising enrollment and completion rates, reflects the unequal toll the pandemic has taken on the health and finances of people of color.  My worst fear is we could lose a generation of students at a time when our district and state can ill afford to lose any students.  If we have further declines in a population that has been growing, it may be a significant problem.

For many of our students, college is really a leap of faith.  When you toss in what’s happening in the world, it’s hard to summon that hope.  We need to provide that and the stakes are high: Research shows that low-income students who postpone college are less likely to graduate on time, if at all.  There can be no such thing as a gap year for low income students in our relentless pursuit of student success.

Finally, the district recognizes the impact of this next step in our recovery from the pandemic.  It is understandable you may experience some trepidation and fear as you make plans to return to work.  Please know that safety protocols, cleaning, air filtration, and availability of personal protective equipment have been or are being addressed to ensure your personal safety.  Additional resources to help you adjust back to your work site can be found on the Anthem Employee Assistance Program (EAP) website (for those employees with SISC benefits); Achieve Solutions website (for those employees with CVT benefits); and on the WHCCD website.  In addition, I encourage you to review campus safety plans (WHC Lemoore and WHC Coalinga and North District Center, Firebaugh) to gain a broader understanding of the commitment to you and our students for a safe return to campus and district office sites.

Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to our culture; and an important part of our future.  Please take a moment to carefully review the attached COVID-19 Response Timeline document which announces an April 12, 2021 return to on site work for employees with student recruitment obligations.  Remaining administrative, classified management, confidential, and classified employees will return to on site work on June 1, 2021.  I will provide additional updates should public health conditions change.  Thank you.

Signature

Stuart Van Horn, Ed.D., WHCCD Chancellor