Washington Watch: Discussing the challenges caused by COVID-19

In a virtual roundtable discussion Wednesday with higher education association leaders, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Illinois) heard about the many challenges that community colleges are confronting due to the pandemic, as well as issues arising from recent protests and social unrest around the country.

Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, briefed the congressman on these challenges, which include: difficulty in providing many types of technical training on campus; various hurdles in the way of effective online learning; and the high percentages of low-income and traditionally underrepresented students served by community colleges. He also addressed the private sector’s reliance on community colleges to help businesses regain economic vitality. 

Bumphus thanked Lipinski and other legislators for their role in providing CARES Act funding to address some of these needs. Earlier this year, Lipinski circulated a bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letter signed by 100 House members that endorsed higher education’s $46.6 billion request for “stimulus 4.0” spending. His effort to secure support for higher education contributed to substantial funding going toward H.R. 6800, the HEROES Act, which the House passed last month. Since then, action has focused on the Senate. 

Looking ahead

Lipinski told the association leaders that he wants to help craft some type of liability protection for colleges and universities as many plan to reopen their campuses this fall. 

In response to a question about the outlook for enrollment, Bumphus said some community colleges have seen increases or have at least stayed level. And despite uncertainty around the pandemic, some two-year colleges expect enrollment to grow this fall, he added.

In terms of implementing the CARES Act, community colleges want more flexibility in how they can use potential future funds, Bumphus said. He noted that two-year colleges are also seeking more support for their workforce mission.

The participants discussed the extent to which the pandemic could change higher education, with some association leaders envisioning a return to many of the pre-coronavirus arrangements, though one person noted “I don’t think we’re ever going back.”

All agreed that higher education needs to reach more individuals.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.