Leaders of seven community college-based organizations on Thursday addressed an array of issues pertaining to the pandemic and equity, but two topics seemed to permeate through most of the discussion: Ensuring students have the technology needed to continue with remote learning and including faculty in plans to help students succeed in the new college environment.
Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), which hosted a webinar featuring the panel, set the context for the conversation, noting that most community colleges were making progress toward improving student success and equity when the pandemic hit. Now it’s uncertain how those areas will continue to advance, he said.
One thing that is clear in that effort is the importance of technology in teaching students. Although a growing number of colleges say they will try to reopen campuses this fall, the uncertainty is prompting nearly all higher education institutions to focus on access to technology and improving remote learning.
Technology and training will be a higher priority for public two-year colleges and their communities, which could opt to halt campus construction projects and use the funds to focus on those areas, said Rufus Glasper, president and CEO of the League of Innovation in the Community College.
“It will become a necessity,” he said.
Glasper added that community colleges also will have to address the issue of student services, workforce development, accreditation, equity and a host of other areas that are important to student success.
Distribution of computers and wifi to students who need them has been episodic because colleges had to react quickly when the pandemic hit, Glasper said. But the coming year will require more strategic planning in addressing those issues, he said.
“The road ahead requires that we are very thoughtful, that we are reflective about what we do and that we imagine beyond what we have done in the past, and not a return to business and usual,” Glasper said.
Many of the challenges around access to technology involve equity. For example, a recent survey of students at 25 colleges by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas indicated that 36 percent of black students had difficulty accessing a computer during the pandemic, compared to 14 percent of white students. In addition, 46 percent of black students compared to 23 percent of white students had to share their computers with family members, noted Linda Garcia, the center’s executive director.
The center is planning to survey community college students this fall to learn about some of the pandemic’s long-term effects on them, Garcia said. It will include questions on social distancing, stress and decisions about transferring, among others.
Helping faculty help students
The National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) is focused on helping faculty transition to remote teaching and learning, said Executive Director Edward Leach. In addition to online meetings, NISOD has put together an online teaching tool kit of promising practices, and it is working with Mountain View College in Dallas to develop a competency-based professional development program to help faculty move courses online.
Achieving the Dream (ATD) is also examining how to provide faculty with the supports they need to help students continue to succeed, said President and CEO Karen Stout. It will be critical to involve faculty more in order to address the equity issue in student success efforts, she said.
“We really won’t make a difference around the racial equity gap we still see in student success without bringing faculty into the work in a very intentional way,” Stout said.
ATD is particularly interested in how colleges adopt it’s models to improve student outcomes and what lessons institutions can learn from adapted to the current environment, she said. For example, colleges have moved from placement testing to multiple measures and self-guided measures. Many colleges also have shifted to universal remote services, something that many students now expect. In addition, institutions are developing different models of delivery, including hybrids and more short-term programs.
“Sustaining momentum will be very important,” said Stout, who noted that ATD includes many resources on its website.
Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the international honor society of two-year colleges, also has been working on various efforts to help member students continue with their success, said President and CEO Lynn Tincher-Ladner. For example, PTK hired an expert on applying for federal student aid and has hosted webinars to help students report changes in their financial status in order to possibly get more aid. It has also increased online programs on transfer and job shadowing to ensure students are moving toward their goals, Tincher-Ladner said.
Equity was weaved into the various areas discussed during the webinar. The panelists noted that it is important to include equity in all areas on college campuses, and not just relegate it to one person’s job. But having those discussions are tough, AACC’s Bumphus said.
“When you talk about race and equity, it gets a little awkward sometimes, but they are necessary discussions,” he said.
Community colleges need to do more in hiring and developing diverse leaders and more to set up a culture on campuses to do this, he said.
“If you haven’t hired well as a leader, and you don’t have that kind of diversity of thought on your staff, then you’re probably not going to do very much within your organization,” he said.
Aside from top leaders, mid-level leaders and faculty also must be included in those equity discussions, Bumphus added.
“We have to have the same commitment in the classroom as well,” he said.
Bumphus noted that when college leaders have an opportunity in a few years to look back, they will be proud of the work they did in terms of equity.
At the national level
During the webinar, Bumphus highlighted AACC’s efforts to help colleges and students during the pandemic. He noted that as Congress considers another legislative package to provide pandemic relief, AACC and other community college advocates would like to see more funding for workforce development. In particular, they support efforts to create a program similar to the much-lauded Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program, which Congress passed to help kickstart the economy during the previous recession.
“We think we will be able to turn that corner very shortly, in terms of having more workforce money given to our colleges,” Bumphus said.
Lawmakers also are interested in how colleges could use potential added emergency funding to help students and to create safe campuses, he said. And with the recent events around police brutality and social unrest, some members of Congress are inquiring how community colleges can help to revamp law enforcement training programs, he noted.
Bumphus also added that there continues to be confusion around the U.S. Education Department’s rules and guidance pertaining to distributing CARES Act emergency grants. He said he plans to discuss it with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with whom he will talk next week.