Online Community College: A Viable, Cost-effective Alternative During Extraordinary Times

By Dr. Edward C. Ortell, Citrus College Governing Board Member

This fall, online instruction will be the norm for California’s 115 community colleges and its more than two million students. The same will be true for the California State University system, the largest four-year public university system in the United States.

With a few exceptions, such as courses that require clinical or lab-based learning in a physical setting, these institutions have made the decision to utilize an increasingly sophisticated and successful delivery mode of instruction, while limiting the transmission of COVID-19 and cutting costs. Many other four-year colleges and universities are now following suit.

This may seem like one more dark cloud on the horizon, like those that cast shadows on our health, the economy and even our futures in the spring. This switch by community colleges to online instruction, however, has more than one silver lining.

Among the many perks of virtual college attendance, cost is one of the most significant. Students attending college from home save on the cost of transportation—one of the biggest expenses for community college students. The flexibility of online instruction allows students to organize their study and class times, thus maximizing work schedules, and students with children can avoid much, if not all, of the cost of daycare.

But students aren’t the only cost savers. Taxpayers save too.

Given the realities of COVID-19, in-person instruction would place an added strain on California’s state budget—a budget which is already facing a deficit in excess of $50 billion for the coming year. Classroom instruction would require smaller class sizes, the need for additional classrooms, repeated sanitizing and cleaning of facilities and personal protective gear for faculty and staff.

Throughout the spring semester, California community colleges made a commitment to continue their push for improving student equity and outcomes, as well as maintaining the rigor and quality of online offerings. And, online students have access to faculty, counselors, library resources, tutors, and other student support services.

Citrus College has also set up a webpage to help students transition to online instruction. Called the Owl Success Hub, it provides resources for students new to online instruction. Information on accessing mental health services and scheduling counseling and other appointments can also be found on the page.

Community colleges will soon begin enrolling students for fall 2020, and classes will start in August. Now is a great time to explore programs of study and the careers they make possible.

Even though college life may have changed, your goals for the future don’t have to.