In just over a month, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our community and our economy in profound ways. Higher education was no exception. Joining some 4,000 higher education institutions, the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus started its spring quarter virtually, delivering classes and instruction to its 1,600 students online and remotely.
Even though our students are in class and our faculty and staff are doing well, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the strangeness of the situation. Our students are impacted. Some feel the home environment distracts their attention to study. Many students lost their jobs. Some of their parents or family supporters became unemployed. Once the stress is built up among our students, their learning will be affected.
Our programs are affected as well, especially those requiring a practicum or job shadowing. For example, the governor’s stay-at-home order and social distancing make it very hard for nursing students to fulfill their practicum hours in the hospital setting. When the public schools are closed, it is impossible for credential candidates to do their student teaching.
Other issues related to the campus shutdown include uncertainty of future enrollment, revenue loss due to refunds and the halting of revenue-based campus events. In addition, a not-so-bright state budget for the CSU in Academic Year 2020-2021 adds a layer of uncertainty to our overall budget next year.
In this difficult time, silver linings still exist. I recently met with our Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) student leaders and they informed me that they are trying different ways to engage virtually with fellow students. Through “Bridging the Gap” funding provided by our local Auen Foundation, we were able to approve $12,000 to support eleven students with their emergency needs in the last three weeks. Our Student Engagement Office and Rancho Mirage Student Center staff have scheduled regular student engagement activities to reach out to students remotely. Finally, the iHub furniture installation is complete, marking the last stage to get ready for a grand opening when we are ready to return to campus.
More significantly, this change prompts us to rethink higher education, its delivering model, the value of online teaching and learning and the ROI on higher education. After years of debate and doubt about online learning, the current delivery modality we are forced to adapt to could prove to be a productive alternative to traditional teaching and a value to both education and students.
The Palm Desert Campus will continue to be a vital resource in the Coachella Valley as we provide our students with access to quality higher education at an affordable cost.
My best wishes for your health and safety!