Unlike almost all other educational institutions in California, where students are now almost all fully back in person, California’s community colleges offer a dramatic – and concerning — contrast.

On top of a drop in enrollments, the majority of students in many if not most of the state’s community colleges who have decided to return to school are preferring to study remotely, or at the least in some hybrid format.

For these students, who tend to be older, working, and often parents — or even grandparents — remote learning is the only way they’ll be able to be in college. For many of them, considerable research shows, the absence of face-to-face interaction will make it less likely that they’ll succeed.

Students’ shifting preferences were on display at three colleges that I recently visited in the Oakland area, all part of the Peralta Community College District. They were virtually deserted.

At Oakland’s Laney College, a large banner in the central courtyard read “Laney Students: The Heart and Soul of the Campus,” alongside bright photos of student activities, many of which are now on hold.

The benches below the banner were empty.  It was hard to find a student anywhere in the places one would normally see them, except for the occasional student attending lab classes or others that require in-person instruction.

On a recent Monday, Merritt College, high up in the Oakland hills, the main parking lot, in front of the state-of-the-art Barbara Lee Science and Allied Health building, was almost empty.

The library, which is only open Tuesday through Thursday, was shuttered with a large roll-up security grille, an unnerving sight on any college campus.

Merritt College President David Johnson explained that his college was projecting to have 50% of courses taught in person and 50% remotely this semester – a big jump from the fall when most courses were still online, as they were across the entire college system.

But it didn’t pan out that way. Merritt faculty were ready to come back, but many more students signed up for online courses, forcing the college to pivot in response to their preferences. About two-thirds of courses are being offered remotely this semester, Johnson says. In the fall, college leaders are hoping that at least half of classes will be offered in person, but it’s not yet clear if that will happen.

Read the full article about online learning by Louis Freedberg at EdSource.