Similar approaches for dealing with COVID-19

A growing number of community colleges are rolling out plans to limit the potential exposure of students, faculty and staff to the coronavirus that include halting in-person classes and shifting them online, as well as nixing large-group gatherings on campuses.

By Wednesday evening, a wave of public two-year colleges – from California to Texas, Michigan to Rhode Island – announced how they will proceed for the coming weeks with their classes and other activities and events.

Like four-year higher education institutions, many community colleges have for the past two weeks been developing continuity plans should they need to close campuses. College leaders and faculty have already started to convert classes to online formats using programs such as Zoom or Canvas, along with providing professional development training for instructors. Many also are bringing online their support services, such as tutoring, library, help desk and more.

However, college leaders have noted that bringing classes online presents other challenges. For example, some community college students don’t own computers or have access to the internet at home. That’s the issue for many tribal college students, noted Ray Burns, president of Leech Lake Tribal College in Minnesota.

“So shifting courses to online modes to complete the semester is problematic at best,” he posted on Twitter.

Following the governor’s recommendation

A number of colleges are currently on spring break, or will be on break next week, and plan to use that time to shift their courses online. Others have decided to close for a week or so to make the shift. Sinclair College in Ohio, for example, closed Wednesday and will re-open on March 23 with online classes and no in-person instruction.

Sinclair and other community colleges in the state are following recommendations issued by the governor’s office on Tuesday to shift from in-person to alternative forms of instruction over coronavirus concerns.

All in-person classes at Edison State Community College are moving online until at least March 30. The college will extend its spring break by one week to allow for the transition. Classes will resume online on March 23. The college said students will hear directly from their respective deans and/or faculty instructors regarding any specific instructions.

Loraine County Community College (LCCC) closed Wednesday through Saturday and will be on spring break next week. It will resume on March 25 with online classes. The college posted on Twitter a reminder that student services, including advising appointments, will continue as scheduled. Campus services remain open during the postponement of in-person classes due to coronavirus, LCCC said.

Clark State Community College, which is on spring break this week, will move all in-person classes at its campuses to online or correspondence formats beginning March 16 through March 27. It will also operate on a modified schedule, so many employees will work from home, though each campus will have limited operations and hours for students to access technology and for certain employees to complete essential business, such as payroll and custodial work.

Cuyahoga Community College also has postposed in-person classes, which will start again online on March 23. Clinical rotations will continue as the college evaluates classroom experiences, such as laboratory and performance classes. Workforce training and corporate college classes will continue as scheduled.

Getting ready

In California, San José City College and Evergreen Valley College have suspended all in-person classes Wednesday through Friday. They will reopen on Monday with classes offered online until at least April 6.

The nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) will cancel classes on March 16-17 to provide professional development and training for faculty to access and teach in the online platform. Most classes will run online through April 13. From March 16 through April 13, all public events and other activities estimated to draw more than 100 people at any of LACCD’s colleges and district facilities will be postponed, modified or canceled.

The San Diego Community College District has not canceled classes, but it is converting its courses to an online format. Speaking on a local TV news program Wednesday morning, Chancellor Constance Carroll said the district is converting its 6,500 classes across its four colleges, all of which must be individually changed to an online format.

Community colleges across the country have had similar approaches.

  • Northern Virginia Community College on Wednesday announced it will extend spring break until March 17 to transition to only online classes until at least April 4.
  • Across the Potomac River in Maryland, Montgomery College canceled classes for the rest of this week and will use spring break next week to plan for online classes to begin March 23 through April 3.
  • In New Jersey, Bergen Community College, which is on spring break this week, is canceling classes for next week, with plans to re-open March 23.
  • The Community College of Rhode Island is doing the same: extending spring break through March 22 and then using remote learning from March 23 until April 3.
  • The Alamo College District in Texas also is extending its spring break by a week to transition to remote classes. It’s also postposing or canceling large events, including all sports and extracurricular activities, through April 15.
  • Michigan’s Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) plans to deliver instruction for most in-person classes remotely through April 3. And effective March 16, GRCC-sponsored events that anticipate an attendance of more than 100 will be canceled or postponed.
  • In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he will shut down most in-person classes at State University of New York and City University of New York schools, which include community colleges, effective March 19 as both systems shift to distance education for the rest of the spring semester. The move will affect about 690,000 students.

Cluster of colleges in Washington

Community colleges in Washington – the state where the virus surfaced first in the U.S. – also have had varied yet similar approaches. Lake Washington Institute of Technology, where a faculty member this month tested positive for the virus, provides on its website its approach to instruction and student services, including financial aid and veterans services, enrollment services, assessments and more.

Everett Community College closed for three days for a thorough cleaning and reopened on March 9 with most of its classes and upcoming final exams online. Some classes, such as those that require labs and clinicals, will continue to be offered in person.

Bellingham Technical College will end its winter quarter a week early on March 20. Although it is transitioning some classes to online versions, the college said most of its classes cannot be held online because they require hands-on instruction for programs such as advanced manufacturing, allied health, culinary, fisheries, industrial trades and transportation.

At Shoreline Community College, the campus remains open but most of its classes moved online on March 10. Large campus events are canceled through March 25. Most learning supports for students are available, including the library and computer labs, though some – such as its Math Learning Center, and Biology and Chemistry Learning Center – are available only online.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.