Why Have SoCal Community Colleges Been Slow To Issue Booster Mandates?
In an effort to curb the COVID-19 surge experts predicted would follow winter break, the CSU and UC systems told students in December that they needed get boosted against the coronavirus. Many campuses also delayed the start of the semester, and moved classes online for the first weeks as the omicron variant spread.
Local community colleges, on the other hand, have moved more slowly.
The Los Angeles Community College district — which has nine campuses, including East Los Angeles College, Harbor College and LA Trade Tech — came back as scheduled on Jan. 4, with a mix of on-campus, online and hybrid options. On Jan. 14, the system updated its vaccine policy to include booster shots.
Other community colleges are also looking to expand their mandates, but leaders say they’re reluctant to introduce more barriers for students, in part because of declining enrollment at two-year institutions.
At many campuses, including Glendale Community College and Cerritos College in Norwalk, boosters are encouraged, but not required. Unvaccinated students can also enroll in online courses and receive non-instructional services, like counseling and tutoring, remotely.
Looking back on Pasadena City College’s decision to require a vaccine for students on campus, Alex Boekelheide, special assistant to the superintendent/president, said leaders “had to think long and hard” before issuing the mandate.
“We recognized that by requiring our students to go get vaccinated, there was a high likelihood that their families would go get the shot as well,” Boekelheide said. “And so we figured it was worth that trade off: we were comfortable putting this barrier to access to the college, if it would help the community increase vaccination rates and help put this pandemic behind us.”
Community college students, he noted, tend to be commuters who take fewer courses than the average undergraduate at four-year institutions, so they have a “more casual relationship with the college.”
When Pasadena City College’s vaccination requirement was announced last August, the campus had to find a way to motivate the community to comply. Using federal emergency dollars, it offered $200 gift cards to students and $500 stipends to faculty and staff. If the college were to issue a booster requirement, said Boekelheide, it “would probably have to identify new funding to do something similar.”
Any changes to the vaccine requirement, he added, would also have to be negotiated with four separate unions.
Because of the surge, the first two weeks of spring semester at the college were offered online. This week, some faculty members refused to return to campus on Jan. 24 and have instead continued to work remotely.
Mary-Erin Crook, vice president of the Pasadena City College Faculty Association, said a survey of 500 faculty members revealed that 80% of them don't think it's safe to be on campus.
When asked if a booster mandate would help faculty members feel more secure, Mark Whitworth, president of the association, said: “That has not been part of the conversation as yet."
"We would just like to be able to extend the remote session a little bit longer, " he added, "until the virus calms down.”