This summer semester is one I will always remember. We have been challenged in more ways than we could have imagined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we pulled through it together. Four weeks ago, we started our slow return to campus. We have been thoughtful about our process, and I’m proud to report that it has been a success. I thank you for your commitment to doing what is necessary to protect the health and well-being of our community.
In the weeks since our return to campus, ACC has had eight students in face-to-face courses and four staff members on campus who have reported they tested positive for COVID-19. In all cases, these individuals followed ACC’s self-reporting process, and our Safety & Operations team immediately implemented steps to ensure our safety. Where necessary, we temporarily transitioned in-person classes back to online environments while teams evaluated the risk of exposure and conducted all necessary contact tracing. I’m proud to report to date, we have had no campus transmission to other students or staff. All cases originated outside the college.
These numbers indicate our new health and safety measures are working. Anyone on campus or at ACC facilities is required to wear a facial covering or mask and practice safe social distancing at all times. This is our new reality for now. ACC will continue to monitor the regional impacts of COVID-19 and adjust our plans as needed. I promise to keep you informed. The college is updating our Coronavirus informational website where you may monitor case reports at ACC.
Planning for Fall
Moving forward, we are preparing to welcome students for fall. Most teaching and learning will remain remote. If it can happen online, it will, but we also are able to expand in-person opportunities. Our focus remains in areas like Health Sciences and Applied Technologies, and we will slowly scale-up hybrid learning for other programs that require some face-to-face components. Our goal is to keep students on track and provide the resources and support they need to succeed and get a job.
For employees, the majority of our work also will continue remotely. We are coordinating closely with our regional partners as we develop timelines for a safe return to the office. We recognize there are many external factors to consider, such as how area ISDs are addressing back-to-school schedules.
Those who do visit our campuses will not need an ACC-issued parking permit. The college is waiving permit fees in fall for students and employees in an effort to ease financial burdens.
Support for Students
CARES Act Student Aid funds are available for students who experience financial hardship due to COVID-19. Applications for fall open Friday, August 21, for students enrolled in fall courses. I encourage you to share this information with any student in need.
Students who are taking online courses and don’t have reliable technology may apply to borrow an ACC-issued iPad or laptop for the semester. We also expanded free WiFi, which is now available in the parking lots at all campuses.
ACC’s Library Services and Student Affairs teams continue to monitor needs and provide support in virtual environments. Things may look and feel different right now, but it’s important that our students continue to get the high-touch support we’ve always offered. It takes all of us working together to keep students moving forward.
Our students recognize the good work you’re doing. I had the pleasure of sitting down a few weeks ago to chat with some students who have been with us through this transition. They shared stories about faculty and staff who they credit for their success. I encourage you to listen to their words in the most recent President’s Podcast.
On a final note, you may have noticed the subject line looked a little different in this email. My title has now changed from president to chancellor. Our Board of Trustees wanted to more closely align the Austin Community College District with best practices from similar college districts. This change went into effect on Monday during the recent Board meeting.
My compensation, role, and duties to you and our college remain the same. I am proud of what’s happening here and honored to be working with each of you. You have shown our community that ACC cares, and they are listening. Thank you for your commitment and dedication to our students’ success.
Richard M. Rhodes, Ph.D.
Austin Community College District