When the Great Recession hit in 2008, community colleges saw record enrollment rates amid widespread layoffs and unemployment, said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community Colleges Association (MCCA).
Hansen said some believe the current economic situation could spur a further increase in community college enrollment, but there is a flip side.
“The counter-argument to that would be, well, if you know people are staying home and not venturing out of fear and the governor had to open up more parts of the economy, people would would they feel comfortable congregating in large groups like classrooms or other places to go back to school? Hansen said.
Hansen said he hopes the unemployed will seize the moment and go home and finish their degrees or train in a new field. But it’s just too early to tell what fall enrollment at Michigan community colleges might look like, Hansen said.
“There are just too many moving parts to really predict with certainty what fall enrollment will look like at this point,” Hansen said.
About half of Michigan’s community college enrollments are in skills-based programs like auto mechanics, welding and machining, Hansen said. Although some of these programs consider the idea of having an online semester, this type of course simply could not replace hands-on experience.
But in general, many community colleges were well equipped to handle the transition to online classes amid the coronavirus outbreak, as in many cases entire programs were already online. However, some schools faced greater challenges than others.
At Oakland Community College, more than 600 faculty members converted more than 1,500 classrooms to a remote setting during the winter semester, according to OCC Chancellor Peter Provenzano. The OCC plans to add more online classes and mostly distance learning in the fall to limit the amount of on-campus activity as there is uncertainty about where things are headed, a- he declared.
“What we plan to do is reduce the amount of on-campus activity by primarily offering distance learning,” Provenzano said. “In addition to distance learning, we’re going to be offering something we call a hybrid course, which means the lectures might be online and the lab might be face-to-face.”
Instead of coming to class several times a week, Provenzano said students could have face-to-face classes once a week at most. OCC hopes to offer face-to-face courses, but with three different modalities: distance learning, a hybrid online course and face-to-face courses, with the amount of on-campus activity being very limited.
Creating three different ways for students to learn, Provenzano said, might deter some students from taking a gap year.
“We don’t want to see students derail their dream of getting a higher education, so we want to make sure that not only are they safe, but we’re providing them with a high-quality education and enabling them to keep moving forward in direction that they have set their goals,” Provenzano said.
Washtenaw Community College offers more than 25 programs with more than 100 online courses, according to the college’s website. However, WCC President Rose Bellanca said skilled trades classes will have to be delivered in person when the fall semester rolls around, some in a hybrid model similar to that described by Provenzano.
“Maybe you take a course and it meets one day online and another day in the field, and you break the course up like that,” Bellanca said. “All the professors and deans have made plans on how we plan to do this.”
The real challenge, Bellanca said, will be taking the proper safety precautions, including social distancing, taking everyone’s temperature and sanitizing surfaces every day. She also echoed Hansen, saying some might be afraid to be in a classroom with other people, especially if they have kids to go home.
Even with many new challenges ahead, Bellanca is optimistic about WCC’s fall enrollment.
“It’s too early to tell, but I think it’s going to be surprisingly strong…I’m leaning more towards the positive,” Bellanca said.
Grand Rapids Community College has announced that the fall 2020 semester will consist of a robust schedule of hybrid and enhanced distance learning options as administrators plan to offer some courses on campus. The GRCC will provide instruction for most courses online for a second seven-week summer session, which begins June 30, but some courses in the Workforce Development and Skills Training programs will be offered on the campus.
Online or in-person, GRCC plans to reopen this fall with a hybrid course model
According to GRCC Director of Communications Dave Murray, the GRCC finance team is predicting a 3% drop in enrollment in the fall. Murray also said recent high school graduates would consider gap years, but community colleges are still good options.
“Community colleges are an attractive option for them because of affordable tuition, accessible schedules, and credits that can easily be transferred,” Murray said in an email.
Lansing Community College Provost Sally Welch said LCC will offer traditional online courses, but also hybrid courses that allow for face-to-face meetings if it’s deemed safe to have them. The hybrid designation will be used for skilled trades and health care courses.
The LCC is looking at two main questions, Welch said: where the state of COVID-19 will be in August and how to prepare to have online and in-person classes.
“Trying to figure out whether we’ll be able to run classes or not based on where the virus is, that’s our biggest challenge. It’s just an unknown,” Welch said. “And we’re basically trying to prepare for both situations so that we can be on campus and we can be online.”
Ultimately, Hansen said that for most community colleges, having a good fall semester would reduce prep.
“Colleges are making all sorts of contingency plans and will be ready to serve students no matter what and hopefully we can get back to a sense of normalcy in higher education sooner rather than later,” he said. said Hansen.
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