5 questions for community college leaders to address while navigating COVID-19

Expert Insight

5 questions for community college leaders to address while navigating COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases—along with subsequent campus closure and quarantines—continue to rise, it’s increasingly difficult to know what to focus on, and how to allocate valuable time. At the same time, doing so is more critical than ever. To assist our partners, we’ve identified the 5 questions that every community college should be addressing right now, in order to support their students, faculty, and staff and mitigate the effects of the outbreak in their community.

1. How can we ensure that vulnerable student populations receive the critical care and service they need?

As campuses across the nation shutter, so does access to food pantries, childcare, workforce development, and counseling services that so many community college students rely on. In times of such instability, community colleges should leverage their platforms—including the college website, email, and various social media—to ensure that students are connected to available services and resources off-campus. Use this Hope Center guide to educate staff on how to serve basic needs-insecure students during a campus closure.

2. How can we make the transition to remote learning as seamless as possible for students and faculty?

Between faculty unaccustomed to online teaching, to students who struggle to access reliable internet, the widespread move to remote instruction presents a major barrier for community colleges.

Many internet providers have taken action on the latter issue, suspending shut-offs and fees, and offering free access to low-income individuals and students.

Colleges and universities across the country are also sharing resources for faculty, including NYU’s digital teaching toolkit and this crowdsourced database of resources from nearly 400 institutions. Just as with physical services, community colleges should leverage their communication platforms to guide their students and staff to these valuable virtual services to navigate the indefinite transition to remote instruction.

3. How can we leverage our relationships with educators, employers, community organizations, and local government to provide care to the local community?

Community colleges have a unique and privileged position at the nexus of education, workforce and community life that is a major asset in a period of such instability. Leverage intel through the workforce development, transfer, and admissions functions to create a network of community resources for your local region. Whether it’s using space on campus to distribute meals to K-12 students out of school, deploying students and faculty in clinical programs to assist with community response, or sharing campus counseling services with all local undergraduates, there are myriad opportunities to live out the community college mission in a time of crisis.

4. What should we be doing to support our adjunct faculty and campus staff?

As with students, many college faculty and staff are experiencing significant uncertainty amidst facilities closures. Communicate regularly with faculty and staff leadership, be empathetic about addressing the concerns and ambiguity inherent in the situation, and ensure that relevant community resources are shared broadly with the campus community. Communicate across multiple channels and in multiple languages and formats that are accessible to your community. Make certain that the line of communication is two-way: ascertain the needs and concerns of campus staff, and allocate space (e.g., an updating FAQ page, a crowdsourced resource page) to collect and address these concerns on a regular basis.

5. What do we need to do now to prepare for potential summer enrollment changes?

While it’s undoubtedly challenging to pull up from the immediate challenges facing our institutions, it’s essential that leaders start to prepare now for the months ahead. First and foremost for many community colleges will be their summer course infrastructure—particularly online capabilities.

Thousands of two- and four-year students already take summer courses at their local community colleges, and with the disruption of instruction this term, that number is bound to increase dramatically.

College leaders need to start acting now to shore up their instructional infrastructure—including staffing, facilities, and student services—to prepare for the potential demand this summer. And given that remote instruction will likely still be the norm, ensuring that these capabilities can be replicated in a virtual environment is key.

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