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Valley College ditches a return to normalcy as students opt for online classes

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Valley’s online courses doubled within two years as some face-to-face classes are being canceled.

By Isaac Dektor, Managing Editor

Valley College students Zachary Kozin, Michelle Melgar and Franco Urquiza walk across a mostly empty campus on Feb. 9 as most students take classes online. (Jose Callejas / The Valley Star)

In-person classes dwindle due to low enrollment as the spring semester kicks off with a cyber-heavy curriculum.

Valley College offered roughly 20 percent of its curriculum as online classes at the start of the 2020 spring semester according to President Barry Gribbons. Enter COVID-19, the term ends abruptly, schools pivot to remote learning and a new normal manifests. Two years later, Valley has more classes meeting online than in the classroom. According to Gribbons, 60 percent of the college's classes have moved online, triple the amount in spring 2020.

“We have significantly higher [enrollment] than the district average,” said Gribbons. “I think that is reflective of us really managing the schedule to make sure we have classes that students want to enroll in.”

As previously reported by the Star, enrollment numbers have been on the decline for a number of years. At the start of last fall, Valley had 2,663 fewer students than the previous spring semester. While enrollment this spring is still lower than spring 2021, the headcount of 13,355 students is up from last fall.

With a dramatic increase in virtual learning, it is clear that many students have chosen to study remotely. Valley is adjusting its curriculum to meet that demand.

The transition to an online majority class load is part of a larger strategy to meet student needs and drive up enrollment.

For students who prefer learning in a physical classroom, their choices may be slim. Any classes that begin with less than 10 students enrolled are automatically canceled. For example, students enrolled in English 206: American Literature, which failed to hit the enrollment minimum, will have to find a new class while the semester is already underway.

English 206 and English 105 are among the classes that were canceled at the onset of the semester, the latter being an IGETC requirement for many.

Eugene Scott, professor of anthropology at Valley, believes many students may have become acclimated to online learning over the past two years, making a full return to campus unlikely.

“I think Valley would like to do in-person primarily, but the enrollment numbers don't reflect that,” said Scott. “The longer the remote teaching continues, the more students may get used to the convenience of it. I think it's more likely there will be a hybrid approach.”

Jennifer Fong Borucki, manager of public relations, said the school is expanding its outreach through marketing with its budget increasing by roughly $400,000 from 2021 to 2022, reaching $1.2 million for this year. The college is casting a wide net by investing in a variety of ads, from billboards and direct mail to commercials and social media marketing.

Valley is not branding itself an online dominant school through its marketing.

“We say that we offer online, in-person and hybrid because our students might have different needs,” said Borucki. “For some students, online works for them. But you also have some other students who want in-person classes.”

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