What’s top of mind for community colleges during COVID-19

Expert Insight

What’s top of mind for community colleges during COVID-19

Across the month of April, EAB convened virtual working group sessions for community college leaders to identify concerns, and emerging strategies to respond to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are three key takeaways from these conversations.

Leaders are looking for creative solutions to adapt remote learning in Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses

The most universal challenge among community colleges is the need to move career and technical education courses fully online. Many of these courses involve equipment or lab exercises that require in-person hands-on learning experiences. In addition, students need to complete hours for clinicals and apprenticeships as a part of their academic program requirements. If students need to make up in-person hours at a later date, they could fall behind, causing long-range impacts on retention and graduation rates. Over 80% of community college students enroll part-time at some point in their matriculation, which means that for those who persist, delaying completion of these course requirements only adds to their time to-degree.

What are the creative workarounds? We learned that innovative community colleges have piloted these solutions:

Live Demonstrations

Cell phone and computer webcams allows students and faculty to use live or recorded videos as a way to demonstrate teaching and learning. Culinary Arts faculty at North Idaho College ask students to facilitate live or recorded cooking demonstrations in order to complete traditionally in-person course components. Students have the opportunity to showcase their talents and skills while completing practical application assignments.

Learning Support using Third Party Vendors

Swift River is a software that provides clinical training for students virtually. Students have the opportunity to continue developing their skills by practicing real life scenarios through patient care simulations. The purpose is for its users to increase clinical learning experiences when onsite opportunities may be scarce or unavailable.

Equity concerns and access to technology resources for remote learning remains top of mind for community college leaders

Community colleges continue to focus on the lack of technology access – including reliable broadband internet and personal laptops -for low-income students and students from rural areas. Institutions are using emergency funds and shifting budget priorities to purchase laptops and instituting loan programs for use of equipment. Some community colleges are opening their parking lots for students to utilize the campus Wi-Fi to support the need for a consistent and reliable service option. Our COVID-19 Resource Center provides additional insight on how to support students who cannot fully access the resources needed to be successful as a remote learner.  

When asked to name the successes of their Covid-19 response, nearly every participant in our working group sessions shared how quickly and effectively they were able to transfer their courses and services online and commended their faculty and staff for their efforts. Although key equity issues remain, the urgency to respond to the challenges of disadvantaged students are facing is a priority. 

Proactive and transparent communication is key to maintaining strong connection to the community

Many campus leaders are concerned about their communication strategies: wanting to strike the right balance between proactive engagement without inundating the community with too much information.  

Now more than ever is a time to emphasize the importance of the community in community college and the collective efforts to ensure students, faculty and staff are aware of the resources and support services provided during this time. Northampton Community College staff and administrators use Google Voice accounts to call students, answer their questions and provide encouraging messages of support and reassurance. Students appreciate hearing voices aside from their academic advisor to feel a further connection and touchpoint to campus.

As so many of us have quickly learned and adopted digital platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts, there are many options within each platform to communicate to large audiences. Doña Ana Community College is conducting town hall meetings where senior leadership presents and answers questions. Facebook, Instagram and other social media outlets have live broadcast features which produce videos in real time allowing campus leaders to give live weekly updates. 

Our resource center provides examples of ways to help communicate coronavirus information to campus and peer examples of comprehensive websites, direct communication, and social media communication available under available Section 4 of EAB’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Academic program support, equity and communication are central focus points that should remain as top of mind continued priorities even as new challenges and developments arise. EAB will continue to work with community college leaders to identify solutions and best practices to respond to the known and potential challenges ahead. We encourage you to bookmark our COVID-19 Resource Center webpage to your web browser as we continue to provide new content and resources daily to support our partners through the coronavirus pandemic.

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