This summer our nation has been consumed by calls for social justice. I consider it a great honor to serve at Allan Hancock College, one of the most important social justice institutions along the central coast. Over the past several years you may have heard someone from Hancock talk about “changing the odds” for our community. That work has never been more important.
What does it mean to change the odds? It means that we need to do more than celebrate those that overcome the odds. We need to remove the systemic barriers that leave too many in our community at a disadvantage when it comes to educational and economic achievement.
We like to think of our economic and educational systems as fair and open to everyone. Unfortunately, our system works more like a quarter mile race where some are forced to start fifty yards behind. The impact of COVID-19 only exacerbated the situation for many of our students who rely on AHC to provide adequate study space, computer access and broadband to support their educational pursuits.
Our faculty and staff are looking to address the systemic barriers during the fall semester in an attempt to ensure that all students are starting at the same place in their educational race. We are installing Wi-Fi hotspots that students can access from their cars or in outdoor common areas, facilities staff are creating socially distant study spaces that will be open and accessible, we are expanding our laptop loaner program, our library is digitizing content, and faculty are rethinking their content to fit the needs of education during a pandemic.
The federal CARES Act provided funds that we are able to use to directly support our students. When the funds were released by the Department of Education, Allan Hancock College was the first college in California to distribute money to our neediest students. Our students services team also scoured our database to identify students who were eligible for financial aid but, for whatever reason, had not completed their application. Imagine the transformational moment for the students who were struggling to stay in school amid an economic crisis, suddenly getting the support they were due all along. That’s how you change the odds.
Andy Densmore, AHC’s long time fire academy coordinator, tells his students that “in the heat of battle, you will not rise to the occasion – you will default to your level of training.” When faced with the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19, AHC faculty and staff demonstrated a tremendous “level of training.” With a mission of social justice at our core, we implemented foundational changes to our instructional programs and business services to ensure that our students would not, once again, be victims of systemic barriers.
We closed out the year with 1,888 graduates, eclipsing last year’s record-setting graduating class by almost fifty percent. With your support, the Allan Hancock College Foundation again topped $500,000 in scholarships awarded to students who are returning to Hancock and transferring to four year universities. Meanwhile, the Hancock Promise continues to grow access for high school graduates in our community – removing financial barriers for students who otherwise would be locked out of a college education.
Allan Hancock College is changing the odds for our community by removing systemic barriers to educational attainment. Even with the progress we have made, the work is not done. As we move into the 2020-2021 academic year – AHC’s 100th anniversary! – we will use this space to update you on the important work we are doing to change the odds for our community.
Kevin G. Walthers Ph.D. is the superintendent/president of Allan Hancock College, a member of the California Community College System.
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