Colleges in the post-pandemic world

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — From student support to workforce preparation, community colleges are re-examining what it takes to successfully serve students as well as employers and communities.

“We are now an on-demand college,” said Michael Baston, president of Rockland Community College in New York. “We are a college that has 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week counseling, medical support, classes, advising and other services in support of the students that we serve that are working, parenting and moving the nation forward.”

That is how Baston described his college campus at the American Association of Community Colleges’ Workforce Development Institute during a session on what it means to be a community college in a post-pandemic environment.

Joining Baston was Sandra Kiddoo, president of Northland Community and Technical College (NCTC) in Minnesota. She talked about being hired during the pandemic and how that experience has helped her to bring a different perspective to the leadership role.

Compressed courses and using technology to implement on-demand support services are just a few of the things that have changed.

Pressure points

Baston said there were three pandemics playing out across the country – Covid, the economy and the racial inequities.

“These things are not going away,” Baston said. “We need to rethink how we do business from the student perspective and make sure that we are meeting their needs and effectively providing them the tools they need to succeed in today’s labor market.”

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NCTC is working with the many national companies in its service area to ensure that non-credit programs are leading to good-paying jobs, Kiddoo said.

“We have to do that to support students and the community, but we have to do it in a way that addresses the needs of the student,” she said.

A different approach

For both leaders, it is about looking beyond traditional skills training. They have broadened their scope and are intentional about looking at economic mobility that meets the needs of both students and employers.  

“We must connect this work to the strategic mission of the college and provide the space for faculty and staff to share in the work and the rewards,” Baston said.

Kiddoo added: “We have to stop doing what we have always done because we have always done it. We are set up based upon an agricultural calendar that is no longer relevant and a credit system that does not accurately reflect the workforce programs, and we need to change that.”

As campuses continue to evolve and respond to local needs, the bigger picture remains in focus.

“We are preparing and propelling America’s workforce,” Baston said.

About the Author

Martha Parham
Dr. Martha Parham is senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.