A Message From the President: Updates and Optimism

Intrepid Saddleback Students:

As we approach mid-term and break, I want to update you on where we are in our plan to bring some students back for limited on-campus experiences this spring, and what we’re scheduling for summer and fall. Our plans and upcoming schedules reflect the optimism that is palpable on the street and founded on data and science suggesting that we are finally getting on top of COVID-19 (assuming folks continue to get vaccinated at a rapid rate and don’t let the variants get ahead of us by dropping safe practices before we hit herd immunity).

We currently have students from the following programs already returning to campus for limited on-ground activity: Automotive Technology, EMT, Advanced Manufacturing, Medical Assisting, MLT, Nursing, Paramedic, Phlebotomy, Chemistry, CTVR, Electronics plus over 300 student athletes! In the next few weeks, assuming we continue to drop risk tiers and don’t experience a variant wave, they will be joined by students from Human Services, Computer Maintenance, Theater Arts, Architecture, Astronomy, Fashion, Graphics, Interior Design, Kinesiology, Studio Arts, Dance and Music! Finally, we will hear music on our campus again!

Our Child Development Center will re-open on March 15 at 25% capacity. And while we already have parking lot #5 open as a wifi parking lot if you need it, we have started re-opening the Learning Resource Center in gradual phases and for limited hours for quiet study space and wifi access for those of you who lack either at home. For reservations, click here. Students on campus for any purpose this semester must follow tight screening guidelines and must wear masks and social distance at all times. Your health and safety is our #1 priority, so we’re not about to drop safety measures when more than 80% of the population remains unvaccinated and vulnerable to COVID-19 and its potentially more deadly variants.

Watch for Commencement plans in May on the college website. Our Commencement committee is working on a drive-thru event that will bring back the celebration and our show of pride that graduating students deserve. Those of you not graduating this May will celebrate your Commencement in our new stadium!

Summer will be mostly online with a few on-campus labs. If you fell behind on your educational pathway because of COVID, we will have robust offerings this summer so that you will have an opportunity to catch up (or get ahead!).

For fall, we anticipate that all those who wanted to be vaccinated will have been vaccinated, so we are planning on a mix of offerings on or off campus. Our goal is that 50% of all sections we offer will have some on-campus components and that all programs taught on-campus before COVID will have some on-campus options for you in fall. This is far fewer on-ground classes than pre-COVID but more than we offered this semester. For a typical student, the fall schedule would provide about 20% of contact hours on-campus; but you can spend more time on-campus by selecting more classes that are on-ground or fewer or none by selecting more classes that are all online. The point is that you will have options, so you can decide what works best for you.

Limited student supports will be available on campus in fall. All student supports will remain available online. One of the things we’ve learned from COVID is that you liked having those supports online. We don’t intend to lose those.

While we do not know what other restrictions will be in place in fall, you will still need to wear masks and maintain safe distances from others in order to be permitted on our campus. I know that many of you are tired of masks and will want to hug your friends once you’ve been vaccinated; but we will need to live with some safety restrictions for a while until we hit herd immunity. If you are averse to wearing masks or social distancing when on campus in fall, you should take online classes only.

Actual implementation of our proposed fall schedule will not be decided for several months and will depend on community conditions and widespread availability and established efficacy of the vaccines. But we are optimistic!

I know that it is hard to be optimistic when many people continue to get sick and die and we have all these new variants in the news that may resist attack by antibodies produced by the vaccines. At this time, the evidence suggests that all three vaccines will prevent hospitalization and death, even from the variants, and there is early evidence to suggest they will prevent transmission of COVID through a vaccinated individual. Moreover, it is highly likely that we will have “boosters” available by the vaccine makers that will cover the resistant variants, and these booster vaccines can be developed in as little as six weeks. So it’s OK to feel optimistic, even though that might not be the theme of headlines right now.

That said, it is imperative that we respect each other and stick with safe practices more closely than ever for the next few months, as the country gets vaccinated. Variants will continue to arise, and one of them may prove vaccine resistant, until we reach herd immunity, when about 80% of us have been vaccinated or have effective antibodies against COVID from previously contracting it. Until then, we are just as vulnerable as we were a couple months ago, and that was before these “stickier,” potentially more deadly variants were dominant in the population still getting sick. Please be careful. Please stay home over spring break to avoid mixing of various variants around the country and to keep you and your contact safe. All these plans to bring people back and to gradually re-open and all this optimism could go out the window if people get crazy in the next few months and allow an even scarier variant to arise.

Thank you for your grit and patience for the past year. We have learned a lot from COVID and each other. We shared an awful experience together and will be better and stronger for it. And now, finally, a year later, almost to the day, we can open the blinds and make out the first light of dawn and the start of a new era at Saddleback.

I am so glad that you have been at Saddleback during this time and look forward to greeting that new day with you all.

 

Elliot
Dr. Elliot Stern
President, Saddleback College