As institutions and workplaces continue to shift back to in-person operations, Portland Community College is making the same move.
This coming fall, PCC’s course delivery breakdown looks a lot different than it did last year.
Next month, 50% of classes at PCC will be an in-person and hybrid format, according to the college. That compares to only 15% of classes taking place on-campus last fall — mostly career technical courses that had to be conducted in person.
But not everyone is happy about it.
“I can certainly understand the desire for things to return ‘back to normal,’ but what I want PCC to take into account is that for some of us, there will be no back to normal. For some of us, there never was normal in the first place,” Penny Harper, a PCC student who is immunocompromised, wrote in a statement to the PCC Board of Directors she shared with OPB.
Harper spoke to the board during a public comment session Thursday night.
Another student, Clover Brownell, voiced similar concerns to the board about the shift away from remote classes.
“College has been out of reach to me before now for many reasons, including multiple disabilities, but the availability of remote access granted during the COVID-19 pandemic changed my life and made higher education possible for the first time,” Brownell said.
Brownell called the college’s move back to more in-person classes “an act of violent discrimination at its core.”
While many of Oregon’s universities and colleges shifted back from online learning toward in-person classes and activities last fall, PCC was slower in its transition.
The college, Oregon’s largest higher education institution, chose to keep the bulk of its classes remote last year. That decision was to adhere to PCC’s “open-access mission,” Kurt Simonds, dean of academic and student affairs operations, said at the time. He said it was an effort to address the diverse types of students that the college serves.
The majority of PCC’s students go to school part-time, and many of them are nontraditional students who may be older and have jobs and families. According to data from the 2019-20 school year, the average credit-taking PCC student was 27 years old.
While PCC stayed primarily remote last fall, other colleges and universities in Oregon started to return to on-campus operations. Smaller community colleges, such as Klamath Community College and Treasure Valley Community College, in Klamath Falls and Ontario respectively, were able to offer face-to-face classes because of their small campus populations.
Oregon’s public universities also started to increase or restore their in-person classes last fall.
PCC’s shift toward in-person instruction includes other on-campus services. The college bookstore, library tutoring and testing have been in-person this summer and will continue to expand hours once staffing is adequately filled, according to PCC.
PCC Public Relations Manager James Hill says the college is adhering to its “Thoughtful Return Policy” as it navigates welcoming students back to campus.
Some of those guiding principles include prioritizing health by continuing to follow COVID-19-related guidelines, offering a diversity of course delivery options and prioritizing inclusion for marginalized communities.
PCC student Harper, who has an immunosuppressive disease called chronic lymphocytic leukemia, says offering fewer completely remote classes will have a disproportionate impact on more than immunocompromised and disabled students. She said it will also affect working students and those who rely on public transportation or live far from campus.
“I’m asking that PCC continue to prioritize and expand the availability of online and remote classes,” Harper said. “I think it’s less important that we physically gather in classrooms to learn, and more important that we can learn wherever and however we are.”
PCC Public Relations Manager Hill said the college does have a policy for accommodations that addresses its commitment to accessibility during the shift back to in-person operations.
“PCC is required to permit remote instruction/telework or make other reasonable accommodations for students and employees who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” the policy reads. “Each situation will be evaluated individually to determine how reasonable accommodation can be made, and whether it has to be in-person or whether it could be done remotely.”