In a few short weeks we will wrap the fall semester, and I want to express my deepest thanks for all you have done to make this semester a successful one for our students. In December, we celebrate a record number of graduates. I hope you will join me for the virtual celebration on December 12.
To say the past nine months have been a challenge would be an understatement, but I am immensely proud of our Riverbat family. Our response to COVID-19 was swift. Our first priority was, and remains, protecting the health, safety, and well-being of our students and employees. We immediately transitioned to a remote environment and were recognized nationwide for our pandemic response. Over the months, we have learned more about the virus. This knowledge has allowed us to balance safety with our mission to ensure student success. Our return to campus will be a slow and steady process. As always, our response will evolve as the situation evolves.
I’d like to share with you more about what our process looks like. We rely upon public-health experts both in and out of the college as well as input from our internal stakeholders. This includes cross-unit conversations to ensure all angles are examined, and it requires the approval of our Safety & Operations division — a team that walks through every scenario with administrators, faculty, and staff to determine how to implement health and safety protocols.
While we expect many employees and students to remain working and learning remotely in spring, our goal is to gradually expand in-person services that are vital to students and our mission.
With any change, we remain committed to limiting the density of the campus population to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect those students, faculty, and staff who may be on campus. Decisions about who returns to campus, when, and how will be made by vice chancellors who are working directly with their supervisors, human resources, and safety & operations, based on the essential needs of the position.
Here is what we are exploring as next steps in our return to campus:
- Portions of Highland Phase 2 will open for the first time in spring 2021. The new space will allow us to welcome more students back on campus who need in-person instruction.
- We expect to increase the number of students enrolled in hybrid classes from the current 3,000 to 4,000 in spring. That’s about 10 percent of our total student population, spread out across 11 campuses districtwide.
- We will continue to provide limited access to on-campus computer and study spaces at key campus locations for students who don’t have reliable internet connectivity or who need a quiet place to study. We served 120 students in the first weeks at our Round Rock and Highland ACCelerators and at the Hays Campus library and expect to serve more as we head into finals.
- We are exploring ways to provide in-person TSI testing and application/registration support so that we remain accessible to all students. No details are finalized at this time. Currently, we are preparing and planning for what this type of service might look like once the situation allows.
We’re aware the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise. We continue to work closely with the regional health authority to track what’s happening in our community and are prepared to adjust our plans as needed. As decisions are made, the college will keep you informed. I encourage you to follow updates and news on our COVID-19 informational website.
Everyone at the college has a role in this important work. Next week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Austin Public Health shared holiday safety tips that I hope you find helpful.
While none of us could have predicted the 2020 pandemic, we have learned and grown together as a result. I thank you for your ongoing support, focus, and commitment to our students and their success.
Richard M. Rhodes, Ph.D.
Austin Community College District