Santa Clara County community college students prefer online classes

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Santa Clara County community colleges are scrambling to offer late start classes and online learning after not listening to what students wanted.

Faculty at many of these schools warned administration that school surveys showed students were not ready to return to campus. Online classes had waiting lists, while in-person classes had to be canceled due to low attendance. In a last minute effort to retain students, administration in the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District and other districts converted canceled classes to online and hybrid courses.

Philip Hu, executive director of the San Jose-Evergreen Federation of Teachers, said the results of a November student survey showed a 79% preference for online classes.

“The in-person classes clearly didn’t fly very well with students,” he told “Our faculty is growing ever more frustrated by the board of trustees’ entrenched position that runs counter to what students want.”

Hu said many in-person classes were canceled for the spring semester, disrupting student education as well as faculty income. Part-time faculty take a significant financial hit when classes are canceled, he said. 

Evergreen Valley College student Alex Do said online classes offer flexibility so she can work. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Evergreen Valley College faculty member David Hendricks said three of his five classes were canceled due to low enrollment. One of these was replaced by a late start online class.

“Students want options,” he said at a Tuesday school board meeting. “We need to have these options available.”

Ryan Brown, spokesperson for San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, said the administration is trying to meet the needs, health and safety of all students, employees and faculty. “The administration has been in ongoing conversations with the faulty, listening to students and surveying students,” he said.

Brown said a number of classes were canceled or moved online due to low enrollment; 123 classes were canceled at Evergreen Valley College and 138 at San Jose City College. Some transitioned to online or were given late start dates. 

San Jose City College student Elton Bangu said if you don’t understand something, the teacher can offer better help in person compared to online. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Some students, like EVC student Alex Do, appreciate having both online and in-person classes. She needed both options because she works and online classes offer more flexibility.

San Jose City College student Elton Bangu favors in-person learning because teachers can help students more in person.

“If you don’t understand what’s going on, you can ask the teacher and they can show you what you did wrong,” he told

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Raul Rodríguez, interim chancellor of San Jose–Evergreen Community College District and columnist, said at Tuesday’s meeting it’s tough to balance keeping employees and students safe while ensuring students progress in their studies. He said the district is trying to find the right mix of in-person, online and hybrid classes.

“What is the right amount?” he said. “We don’t know yet. Many other colleges are in the same boat, we’re all trying to figure it out.”

About 7,090 students are enrolled at Evergreen Valley College and 6,749 at San Jose City College.

Affecting morale

Gavilan College, with enrollment of about 4,222 students, also aimed to have more classes in person.

Robert Overson, president of Gavilan College Faculty Association, said school Superintendent Kathleen Rose set a goal of having 50-60% of in-person classes.

Faculty pushed back after student polls showed the majority wanted online classes, Overson said. Faculty requested more online classes or a lower enrollment cutoff, but were mostly denied, he said. Although some classes went online, others were canceled.

“It’s affected faculty morale,” Overson told

Winter quarter for Foothill and De Anza colleges started Jan. 3 with a little more than 30% of classes in person. Foothill plans to increase that to 40% in the spring. 

Foothill College has an enrollment of about 22,000 students and De Anza College has an enrollment of approximately 38,000.

District administration and teachers reached an agreement about teaching in person, said Tim Shively, president of the faculty association of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. He said although it came at the last minute, the administration said if teachers weren’t comfortable coming back in person, they could work online through January.

“A lot of faculty were balking given the omicron situation,” he said. “And to their credit, the district showed some flexibility.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Foothill College had 50% of its classes online, said spokesperson Simon Pennington.

“Remote learning, as convenient as it is, doesn’t work for every student,” Pennington said. “We have to balance safety with mental health… Everyone is trying to do what they feel is best.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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