Updates on commencements, summer classes

At Delgado Community College in New Orleans, new two-week online classes for "Maymester" begin May 16. (Photo: Todd Taylor/Delgado)

With the end of the spring term quickly approaching, a wave of community colleges over the past few days has decided on how to handle commencements this spring, whether to continue running nearly all their courses remotely through the summer and other time-sensitive matters. 

Although a number of community colleges across the country had already decided to postpone commencement or to offer an alternative — such as holding a virtual celebration — many colleges were waiting to see how the COVID-19 situation would evolve. With several governors these past few days extending their state shutdowns, many of those two-year colleges have moved accordingly with their decisions to complete the rest of the spring term and summer classes online, as well as holding off on traditional commencements.

Some colleges, such as Mid-Plains Community College in Nebraska, are opting to postpone their commencements that are traditionally held in May until July. Iowa Lakes Community College will hold its spring commencement with its previous scheduled summer-term ceremony on July 24.

Virginia’s Tidewater Community College said it won’t have a traditional commencement but rather a virtual one on May 11 that will include a speech by President Marcia Constant and several student speakers. Graduates will get to see their photos and names as degrees are conferred.

Other colleges plan to give students two options, a virtual celebration and an invitation to participate in a postponed commencement in the summer or to join a fall commencement. Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell will hold a virtual graduation ceremony via Facebook live on May 8, led by President Shawn Powell. Graduation candidates will submit photos, which the college will compile into a slideshow to show during the ceremony. All spring and summer graduates also have the option to participate in the fall commencement in December.

In Colorado, Aims Community College also will live stream a virtual commencement ceremony on May 8. It will include remarks from President Leah Bornstein, other college leaders and students, along with a singing of the national anthem. All participating graduates will receive a graduation package from the college, including a graduation cap and gown, diploma cover, commemorative program and a special alumni gift.

“We recognize the huge impact walking across the stage has for students and their families,” Bornstein said. “For many, this is one of the most important moments in their lives to date. We are committed to moving forward and celebrating our students’ achievements in real-time, especially when so many other critical parts of their lives have been postponed to an unknown future date.”

Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) will honor spring graduates on May 14 with a virtual commencement ceremony and a formal, in-person celebration on December 16. The ceremony will be separate from the college’s fall commencement, which is set for the following day.

“We all are so incredibly proud of each of you for your energy, perseverance and dedication, especially during this final semester,” President Alex Johnson wrote in an email to students. “I cannot imagine sending you into the next phase of your life without a proper celebration, which is why we plan to honor you twice.”

Gadsden State Community College in Alabama also is combining its spring and summer semester graduates with two ceremonies planned for August 10 and 11. Graduating students of either term can participate on either day.

Responding to a student survey

In Tennessee, Cleveland State Community College opted to give its students a say in how to proceed with commencement. After hearing from the graduating class via a student survey and discussing options with the college’s commencement committee, Cleveland State decided to move the previously postponed spring graduation to July 31 — and it won’t have a virtual celebration.

The college initially wanted to plan a virtual commencement, but after hearing from soon-to-be graduates who did not like the idea, the college decided to survey all spring graduates to ask their opinions on a variety of alternatives for the traditional spring graduation. When the survey results were in, the majority favored a rescheduled ceremony for the end of the summer term. The results were then reviewed by the commencement committee.

“The hope was by the end of July we would be past restrictions due to COVID-19,” said President Bill Seymour. “For graduates who plan to transfer, this date allows them to participate before they get started with their new college or university.”

Status quo for the summer

Many two-year colleges these past few days have also announced plans to continue with remote learning through the summer for most of their courses.

“Our hope is to bring back in-class instruction as soon as possible, but our primary concern is the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff,” said Richard Rhodes, president of Austin Community College (ACC) in Texas.

The college — which remains closed until at least May 31 — will open summer registration on May 1, with classes starting June 1. Courses that require a significant hands-on component that cannot be done online may begin after July 6. ACC also will extend its pass/no pass grading option through summer.

In Michigan, West Shore Community College opens registration for its summer semester on April 13. All courses in the summer semester, which runs from June 1 through July 24, will be in an online-only format. The college noted that if the situation changes, it may add hybrid and face-to-face sections.

In California, all nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) will run their classes remotely through its summer session, which begins June 8. The district has not decided what to do over the summer with classes that require in-person, hands-on instruction, such as theater stage production and lighting classes, laboratory course work and nursing classes. Those courses are currently postponed for the spring semester, but they are not canceled, according to the district.

“We are working with faculty and staff to develop a plan for returning these important classes as soon as possible to the colleges in a safe learning environment,” Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez said in a statement. “We know these classes are an important part of the education goals for many of our students. We understand their concerns and share them. We will keep our students informed when decisions are made.”

Less than five percent of courses of LACCD courses could not be transferred into remote instruction, and another four percent cannot be completed without in-person instruction for grading and other hands-on course requirements, the district said.

Smaller colleges in rural areas also are keeping classes online for the summer. Cape Cod Community College (C4) in Massachusetts offers two summer sessions split into seven-week semesters. The first session runs from May 18 to July 7, followed by the second from July 8 to August 26. As with many colleges that plan to keep programs remote for the summer, C4 will continue to offer student services online, including tutoring, online library resources and student wellness check-ins.

Offering shorter options

In New Orleans, Delgado Community College has opened online registration for its new “Maymester” and for summer session classes. From May 16 to 30, during the two-week Maymester, Delgado will offer current students, new students and students visiting from other institutions the opportunity to earn college credits in a compressed, online format. Because of the coronavirus situation, many students may have extra time to study and advance their educational goals, the college said. They may be away from their home institutions, or they may be among those who are now unemployed or underemployed.

“Maymester is an excellent opportunity for these different student populations to further their studies and reach their career goals,” said Emily Cosper, dean of communication at Delgado. “The courses run the gamut, from general academic courses to courses leading to technical certifications.”

Instructors will continue to use a variety of methods, including video conferencing, online chats, and other Internet-based features to interact with and instruct the students.

Delgado’s two-week Maymester courses complement the college’s traditional eight-week summer session, which will expand for 2020 to include two “minimesters,” each lasting four weeks. The full summer session is June 3 to July 29. Summer Minimester A is June 3-30. Summer Minimester B is July 1-29.

Together, Maymester and the expanded summer session offer Delgado students an opportunity to earn 18 credit hours from May through the end of July, the college said.

Postponing summer starts

At least one college is postponing some of its summer offerings. Gadsden State is delaying the start of the full summer semester as well as its summer II mini-term to June 8. The previous start date was May 28. The third mini-term this summer will begin July 2 as scheduled.

“We are delaying the start of the summer semester and second mini-term in order to accommodate the planning required for student success,” President Martha Lavender said in a press release.

The college will offer summer courses online or in a hybrid setting. All theory in hybrid courses will be delivered online in the first half of the semester with the hands-on learning offered in the latter half, if possible, she said.

About the Author

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