Local community colleges reported a jump in summer enrollment, even amid challenges caused by COVID-19. College presidents expressed appreciation for both staff and students who responded with flexibility and creativity.
“I am so appreciative of the incredible faculty and staff of Howard Community College,” said Dr. Kate Hetherington, Howard Community College (HCC) president. “While the college had long been an expert in online education, it was a herculean task to transition every class and every service online in only two weeks. I also appreciate the guidance and support provided by the college’s board of trustees.”
Dr. Dawn Lindsay, president of Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), said she is “extremely proud of the response from our faculty and staff who reacted to extraordinary circumstances with dedication, innovation and hard work. I am also proud of our students who adapted quickly and moved forward with success.”
Like public schools and private universities, HCC and AACC have crafted reopening plans that consider the health, safety and well-being of faculty, staff and students.
HCC is offering a blended learning environment for the fall semester. Classes are in three formats: hybrid (learn both in-person and online), scheduled remote (meet at designated times in an online classroom) and flexible online (study on your own time).
“This approach allows for some in-person instruction for courses that benefit from hands-on experiences or labs, while also giving students formats to fit their needs and schedules,” said Hetherington. “It is an unbelievably challenging time, and yet I am constantly impressed by the ingenuity, adaptability and collaboration of faculty, staff, and students. Everyone has banded together to ensure the college can continue to live its mission of providing pathways to success.”
AACC was recognized with a 2019-2020 Community College Innovation of the Year award, noting that the pandemic prompted “resiliency and vigor” from the college.
“As early as February, AACC began work to ensure continuity of operations and delivery of our mission despite the growing pandemic,” said Lindsay. “The unprecedented times required an unprecedented response, and we did so swiftly.”
Part of that was going completely online. In January, AACC offered 524 online courses. In April, that number skyrocketed as 1,250 additional face-to-face credit and noncredit courses were converted to remote in response to COVID-19.
“It helped that we have long been a leader in distance education, starting with classes delivered by TV decades ago before shifting to online in the 1990s,” said Lindsay.
Purchasing more tech
Both colleges have had to evaluate additional technology to keep safely serving students.
HCC invested in Zoom and acquired new technological services, software, and other tools to assist employees with teleworking.
“We also provided faculty, staff and students with loaner laptops and hotspots to ensure they had the appropriate technology for a remote learning environment,” said Hetherington. “The college has had to critically examine its expenditures and make some difficult decisions to reduce costs. Already the state has cut the college’s funding by $3.3 million. As a result, the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic will affect the college this fiscal year and well into the future.”
For AACC, the need for online materials, laptops, counseling, the food bank and many other services multiplied significantly since the spring.
“Our college community has come together to donate PPE to local hospitals and support our community in many different ways,” said Lindsay. “As a leader in online education, we continue to offer a strong schedule of online classes going into our fall term. We know people need flexibility as they reset their schedules and adjust their goals.”
Lindsay said she also knows people are losing jobs and may need to retool, change careers or change their plans for higher education.
“We are continuing to adapt to meet their needs,” she said. “We are the community’s college, and we take that role very seriously.”
While the community colleges have been able to save some money through reduced use of buildings, that savings doesn’t offset the expenditures of transitioning to a COVID-19 safe environment.
“When COVID hit, we had approximately 30 percent of our courses online, so we had to transition 1,250 additional classes to that format,” said Lindsay. “Thanks to our great technology team, we were well-positioned to transition to online as all our credit courses had an online shell through our learning management system.”
AACC received funding under the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act to help support students and the costs associated with the disruption of campus operations and the transition to online instruction.
“These funds are helpful in offsetting the additional costs we have incurred as we position our institution and our students to be flexible and adaptive in this ever-changing environment,” said Lindsay. “We continue to expand and improve our services and availability with additional technology equipment and software to support online services and instruction.”
AACC has expanded use of video conferencing and online exam proctoring services and is evaluating additional technology and services.
“We are really excited about the innovative ways our faculty and staff have addressed lab-related instruction through the use of virtual labs and at-home kits,” said Lindsay. “This will allow students the opportunity to have virtual and hands-on experiences while continuing their coursework at a distance.”
Students make difficult decisions
HCC and AACC saw a jump in summer enrollment. “We were up 10 percent for the first summer session and almost 20 percent for the second summer session,” said Hetherington. “For the fall, students took much more time to make their decisions about classes.”
In early August, several four-year colleges in Maryland reversed their decisions to bring students back to campus, choosing instead for online classes in the fall.
“I would suggest that Maryland families look instead at community colleges, which offer a supportive – and affordable – choice for students,” said Hetherington. “With so many resources available, including financial aid, academic advisors, transfer counselors, loaner laptops, not to mention a world-class faculty, students can get a great start at Howard Community College.”
AACC also saw a steady increase in fall enrollment. “We know these are confusing times for people to make concrete decisions, but we have resources to help people choose the right educational path,” said Lindsay.
She added, “Last year we provided more than $1 million in scholarships to students and continue to offer significant financial resources this year that our financial aid team can advise. We have built the capacity to deliver quality online instruction in the most affordable way for traditional-aged students, working adults looking to gain more skills and adults out of work who may benefit from additional education.”
By Susan Kim | Staff Writer | The Business Monthly | September 2020 Issue