Research has shown that many high school seniors who hadn’t considered attending a community college before COVID-19 emerged worldwide, will now add two-year schools to their roster of options.
Come September, more students than ever will pivot toward attending local community colleges instead of traditional, often far from home, four-year universities.
The issue of community college credits not being transferrable was a common fear in past years, however, that scenario is becoming less and less likely.
According to CNBC, “At least 30 states have policies that guarantee that students with an associate degree can then transfer to a four-year school as a junior.”
Why are more students choosing community colleges over traditional four-year schools?
According to Cirkled, a self-described electronic portfolio and profile platform for kindergarten thru college students, almost one in four seniors are rethinking their overall plans for higher education.
With those statistics, it’s no wonder that community colleges may be seeing a resurgence due to the coronavirus.
A weaker economy – During a downturn in markets, employment rates, and deepening income inequality, fewer families can afford a traditional four-year college education and have already begun looking for less expensive alternatives.
With an intensifying recession possible, taking on more debt than necessary doesn’t feel smart or especially doable to many.
According to Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, students who choose to attend community college for their first two years of higher education can save $80,000 over those who head straight to a four-year university.
Staying close to home – While younger people are less likely to contract a severe case of COVID-19, novel coronavirus infections requiring hospitalization do occur in every age group.
Dr. Susan Bickerstaff, Senior Research Associate at CCRC says, “If you have the choice of being quarantined alone in an apartment in a far-off city as opposed to isolating with your family, you might want to choose being with your family.”
And not to be overlooked is the real chance that, if an older family member becomes sick, students may be needed to help provide care.
More bang for your buck – Classes at every educational level have gone digital this spring and that trend could well continue into next fall.
Students who suspect they’ll have to learn remotely come autumn, may not want to pay more for four-year colleges when they could shell out less (or nothing in some states like Washington) to attend a community college.
Shuttered shared spaces such as gyms, labs, and libraries, which are generally significant value adds for those who choose larger universities, may contribute to this decision.
A recent Washington Post article notes that community colleges “are designed to respond quickly to the demands of the regional job market, and leaders work closely with local businesses to create relevant curriculum.”
Dr. Bickerstaff says, “By definition a community college is in your community and is tied into the local workforce with business partnerships tapped into your regional economy.” And with a student body largely made up of older people who work and have families, it makes sense that community colleges would sweep a larger share of students than they did before economic downturns.
Further, many community colleges are rushing to help their students get internet access by supplying parking lot WiFi, hotspots, and laptops to students.
The Washington Post says of a Maryland community college, “Regular users of Prince George’s Community College’s on-campus emergency food pantry are getting grocery store gift cards. Northern Virginia Community College recently launched an emergency aid fund for students facing furloughs and layoffs.”
Community College in Fall 2020
If you’re one of the many who are electing to continue or resume your education at a community college in Fall 2020, here’s what you can expect.
Student housing may be a no-go, at least for fall term.
Twenty-five percent of community colleges provide residential services but, until widespread COVID testing and a viable vaccine are available, residence halls may not be able to justify opening their doors to students.
Digital instruction will likely continue and labs/practicums may be delayed.
CCRC says, “At Wake Tech (Community College in North Carolina), instructors plan to front-load the lecture-based portions of each course with the hope that they’ll be able to convene with students in-person for the lab sessions by the end of the semester. If that isn’t possible, the courses may be paused and students will receive a temporary incomplete grade.”
Grading may change from letter grades to a pass/fail system and two-year college students who plan to eventually transfer credits to a four-year university will have to shoulder the unique burden of determining what credits and grades universities will accept.
Cirkled says, “In Virginia, the community college system implemented a modified pass/withdrawal/incomplete grading scale for the spring semester that gives students the option to receive a letter grade or decide to take the course pass/fail. Students who choose pass/fail and who earn a C or better in the course will receive a P+ on their transcripts, while those who pass with a lower grade will get a P. Officials canvassed public and private four-year colleges and universities throughout the state to confirm the transferability of P+ grades.”
Dr. Bickerstaff says, “Neither two year or four year institutions are exactly sure what fall will hold. Community colleges with their highly tailored work-force development programs like HVAC, welding, and nursing – things that have components of hands on learning – are thinking about the best way to deliver that kind of education.” Community colleges need to be creative with how they deliver education online for such professions, she says.
She also speculates that hybrid education (classes that meet online plus a face-to-face component) could be a “tool in the toolbox to mitigate risk.” “In a hybrid format,” she says, “maybe the class meets in person less often (every other week or third week) or in smaller groups that they would have pre-COVID to help slow the virus’s spread.”
Improving Your Community College Experience
What, if anything, is in your control to improve your community college experience this fall?
Look into getting a refund on room and board or other fees you have already paid but know you won’t be using.
In fact, start that process as soon as possible with your college’s financial services office.
Maintain connections with others as much as you can including instructors and professors.
Don’t be afraid to reach out during their e-office hours or through email, and make a point to attend every session of their online classes.
Create a schedule Fit your academic work into that schedule, but don’t forget to structure it where you can also spend at least an hour a day, if you have it available, doing something you like, be it learning a new skill from a YouTube video, reading, hanging out with family or, depending on social distancing guidelines come fall, friends.
We are all living through a highly unusual and stressful moment in history and, with some adjustments, community colleges can be a smart way to begin or even complete your education.
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