We finally are turning the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are signs of hope on several fronts.

Some 50% of California residents are fully vaccinated, an additional 15% are partially vaccinated. In Los Angeles County alone, home to more than 10 million people, some 9 million doses have been administered.

Children have returned to in-person classes at the K-12 levels. Our colleges are ramping up in-person teaching while also taking advantage of the benefits of online delivery. And fans are returning to ballparks to root for their home teams.

Despite the toll that COVID-19 took on our system, community colleges continued to show progress toward meeting goals of the system’s Vision for Success, which sets a path to increase certificate and degree attainment, to improve transfer and to close equity gaps.

Transfer rates have increased, as have completion rates across all populations, but the work of closing equity gaps remains unfinished.

There’s good news on the financial front. Congress and the new administration in Washington have delivered state and local assistance to stabilize the economy and lay a solid foundation for recovery. Sacramento is looking at a projected budget surplus, with much needed resources going to public education.

Gov. Newsom’s revised spending plan recognizes the vital role of community colleges and invests in students through direct grants, enhancements to support services, workforce training, equity and inclusion programs, college affordability and improved financial footing.

Community colleges will help lead the way by putting students first. Expanded recovery efforts highlighted in the governor’s May budget revision includes emergency financial assistance to students impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout. It includes the resources to ensure our colleges’ return to in-person operations maintains flexibility for our students who are juggling multiple demands.

While the corner has been turned, California has a long way to go. The pandemic has exposed many of the equity challenges students have long faced in areas ranging from public health to internet access.

California’s community colleges, like the rest of our state and nation, must continue navigating an arduous road in overcoming institutionalized racism that have held down far too many for far too long.

 As noted by the California Budget & Policy Center, undocumented residents have been denied thousands of dollars in federal cash payments and the pandemic’s health and economic impacts will linger among communities of color and low-income residents far longer than those in wealthier and whiter populations.

The pandemic era has been among the most challenging test we have ever faced. But we are emerging stronger and more resilient thanks to the determination and leadership of students, faculty and staff at our 116 colleges.