The Gavilan Joint Community College District extends from the Coyote Valley to the southern edge of San Benito County, and includes the communities of Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy, Hollister, San Juan Bautista, Tres Pinos and Paicines, along with the surrounding rural areas. It serves students coming from three school districts: Morgan Hill Unified, Gilroy Unified and the San Benito High School District. 

The Gavilan Board has seven trustees, each elected from a specific “area.” This is to guarantee that residents from throughout the college district will have a voice. But the truth is that once we are seated, we each have a responsibility to represent and protect the interests of the entire college community, for this institution belongs to us all. 

The taxpayers fund community colleges, and they rightly expect us to be careful stewards of their investment. Together with the college’s administration, faculty and staff, we are tasked with finding the most effective ways to leverage this investment, and maximize student success. It is an ongoing, ever-changing, sometimes frustrating, often uplifting, and always compelling challenge. 

Witnessing the dedication and tireless efforts of so many, both on campus and in the broader community—as we are privileged to do from our seats on the Board—is inspiring. 

Of course, our most important responsibility is to Gavilan’s roughly 6,300 students. In this column, we would like to share some of what we learned at last November’s annual convention of the Community College League of California (CCLC), about some of the biggest challenges facing our student population. 

At the CCLC convention, we learned that the majority of California’s community college students face basic needs insecurity, with over one-third experiencing housing insecurity and two-thirds lacking a reliable source of food. Among the 24,000 California college students who applied for financial aid in 2022–23, two-thirds were identified as housing insecure. Students of color, older students and those exiting the foster care system have the highest rates of basic needs insecurity. 

Personal finances, fear of mass shootings, and concerns about the climate crisis are among the top stressors of college students nationwide. One survey found that 80% of community college students say there is a student mental health crisis, and that 63% say they are personally anxious about current events issues. Depression and anxiety are widespread—up 50% since 2014—and are contributing to failure and dropout rates. 

Across all college systems, students must jump through many hoops to get financial assistance. They may be required to complete applications to as many as nine agencies. We heard that “they must continue to prove that they are poor over and over again.” Many become discouraged and give up. 

Other issues that were highlighted for us were the importance of scheduling required classes so that students can complete their programs in a timely manner, providing flexible access to academic counseling, and being mindful of creating culturally welcoming spaces and a sense of belonging for all students, across all demographic groups. 

Finally, we were reminded that taking pride in the condition of our campus facilities and grounds shows our students (and we would add, our staff and community) that we value them. 

In our next column, we will share some of the initiatives we are taking at Gavilan to address these needs. 

This is an ongoing column written and submitted by the seven-member Gavilan College Board of Trustees: Kathy Chavez-Napoli, Alicia Cortez (Clerk), Dr. Gabriel Gutiérrez, Dr. Patricia Mondragón-Doty, Irma González, Rachel Pérez (Vice President) and Jeanie Wallace (President). 

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