Of all of the dire predictions making headlines regarding COVID-19, one that does not appear to make the news is this: community colleges were and are well-positioned to address student needs during and after this pandemic.
Community college administrators, faculty and staff have built their organizations on the servant leadership of student success, complete with flexibility, accessibility, provision of wraparound services, and scaling up or scaling back resources, depending on the situation faced. One of the characteristics of the community college — it’s commuter population — has become its strength.
Community colleges are totally focused on our mission to welcome and serve all students. While accessibility is important, our students prioritize the learning that occurs in the classroom itself — whether virtual or face-to-face.
Yes, we absolutely deliver a high-quality learning experience in up-to-date facilities, but the creation of an all-encompassing campus experience — football games, residence halls, communal dining, Greek life — has not been the priority because these aspects of college life are not the priorities of our students. Our students, for the most part, are “working learners” — they, too, have many competing demands on their time and the quality, affordability, transparency of experience that a community college provides appeals to them.
Preparing ‘essential’ workers
Additionally, think about a term used often during this COVID-19 crisis — the “essential” workers. Community colleges, by and large, train most of the essential workers in this economy: police officers, firefighters, healthcare workers and the list goes on. In other words, the community college is also where the workforce will be rebuilt.
For these reasons and more, community colleges will be positioned to come through this uncertainty in the strongest position to train the current and future workforces and provide transfer options to those students who are unwilling to spend the money and time on a traditional four-year college experience. If the goal is the education and the degree, community colleges help students achieve this goal with online classes, user-friendly student services, and well-trained faculty and staff whose focus is on the learning that occurs and the technology to enhance it.
At Clark State Community College (Ohio), we are planning to be together in the fall in a safe manner consistent with state guidance and laws. While we will welcome students back on July 6 for in-person services as needed, such as testing and tutoring in a physically distanced environment, all of these services have moved totally online. One hundred percent of the enrollment process at Clark State can be done online, including completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Of the silver linings that have been documented and discussed during this unusual time, the fact that Clark State in particular and community colleges in general have become even more student-focused is the brightest of the silver linings.