With the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year nearly upon us, we reflect on the past several months, upended by pandemic and wrenching racial injustice. As we brace for more challenges ahead, the California Community Colleges can take pride in what it has accomplished while committing to action that will result in lasting change.

This year our colleges brought the largest higher education system in country from offering less than a quarter its instruction online to nearly all online in a matter of weeks. It wasn’t easy, but faculty, students and staff stepped up to help one another during these hard times.

Many answered the call and joined the frontline response to COVID-19 — one of the most severe public health crises our country faced in 100 years.

Many are now answering the call to work to address structural racism in our country, including in higher education. We all have a role in putting into motion the calls to action for our system, including accelerating diversification of our faculty and staff and reexamining the way we train police officers.

In a California Community College webinar viewed by nearly 10,000 people shortly after the murder of George Floyd, one of the panelists, Dr. Abdulmalik Buul, assistant professor of counseling and transfer center director at San Diego City College, eloquently observed:

“America is hurting and its pain is now more than ever visible. The frustration you see in the streets of America is indicative of the original pandemic of this country since its inception…As educators, we have a profound commitment to the truth. We have the privilege of educating the human mind.”

Through all of these challenges, our colleges made significant progress in meeting critical goals of increasing completion and closing achievement gaps.

The number of community college students who earn college credentials increased by 20% over the past two years, meeting one of six goals outlined in the Vision for Success ahead of schedule. And colleges are making progress toward meeting the other goals. This includes narrowing achievement gaps among students of color and those who live in poorer regions of our state.

None of what we achieved would have been possible without resilience, sacrifice and the willingness to work together toward a common purpose.

The tremendous responses from our colleges demonstrate our system’s agility in collaborating and quickly pivoting to deliver for our students.

Recognizing the urgency of this moment, we must continue to ensure our education system is responsive to emerging needs. As we consider the economic recovery, our colleges are connecting unemployed and under employed workers to career education opportunities.

We’re increasing flexibility in the way we structure courses, credit and support to meet the needs of an older and increasingly diverse student population. We’re collaborating with government and advocacy partners to help students afford secure housing and food, so they can focus on learning and reaching their goals.

We are the lowest-funded education system, yet the most consequential for equity and access. Flexibility to mitigate the impact of budget reductions on our students will be critical.

Above all, we must stay committed to our goals and the commitment to make the California Community Colleges the gateway to civic and economic prosperity and racial justice for all Californians.

Read more about how we're doing in the latest State of the System Report.