This fall, community college enrollment rates were almost nine times their loss rate before the pandemic, totaling a 9.4% drop, according to an October report of the Community College Daily. For freshman, that number is even more dramatic: 22.7% fewer freshman enrolled in community colleges for fall 2020.
The economic downturn and flood of students back home had left many expecting community college enrollment to increase; however, NSC Center Executive Director Dough Shapiro wonders if challenges with online learning, computer and Internet access, and challenges transitioning coursework to online played a role.
“Community college students are probably struggling much more with family finances and affordability, as well as online learning,” Shapiro said in a briefing. “Those students are probably less likely to come back six months or even a year from now. There’s a real risk that this entire generation of students will take many, many years to recover.”
Missing out: What skipping an essential education can mean
For community colleges themselves, a dip in enrollment equates to hefty budget cuts, when support is even more critical.
But critically, a downturn in enrollment today means fewer students tomorrow who are equipped with the education and degrees vital to securing a job.
Community colleges, in particular, connect students with critical educational opportunities, help support workforce development, cultivate local economies, and provide vocational training. Within their communities, these accessible institutions can help combat major challenges, including stagnate incoming, wealth disparities, and polarization.
According to a Washington Post article, students from families earning incomes less than $75,000 a year are almost twice as likely to have canceled plans to enroll in classes when compared to students from families with incomes above $100,000 annually.
But rather than focus on what is missing, let’s instead talk about what community colleges need. In a recent publication in Inside Higher Ed on the heels of NECHE 2020, Yves Salomon-Fernandez shares a personal take on the top 10 issues for community colleges.
Community Colleges: Today’s Essentials
1. An established financial aid program for competency-based education. While a pilot program tested this out in 2019, Salomon-Fernandez argues that it’s time to evolve: the job market enables multiple ways of knowing, and so should our funding if we hope to increase diversity and expand the skills marketplace.
2. An actual childcare solution. If communities are serious about dismantling gender and economic barriers, affordable childcare is vital – and placing childcare facilities on campus is one way to address this, Salomon-Fernandez writes. We’ve all had a first-row seat to the impact lack of childcare can have on women – more than 2 million women dropped out of the labor force as of October 2020 because of virtual schooling, according to a Washington Post article.
3. Outreach to rural populations. Labor shortages across regions can only be combatted by realistic training and opportunity to higher education, and yet today, evidence suggests rural youth attend colleges at lower rates, with just 8 percent of bachelor’s degree holders living in rural counties, according to a report in Inside Higher Ed in 2019.
4. Build better student networks. Salomon-Fernandez calls this “social capital,” but regardless of the name, the point is that students need networks that will help them thrive after graduation, through opportunities and positions that a network can make available.
5. A better understanding of every culture. Our communities are global and diverse, and students and their environments need to better understand the normal, practices, and traditions of every culture – but most importantly, of non-majority cultures to ensure that every individual, whether she or he is an immigrant, LGBTA, neurodiversity, or a person of color, is understood, valued, and honored.
6. A focus on equity in education. Latinx and Black men living in poverty without education and limited opportunities are incarcerated at higher rates. Education could be a path to change that. In fact, multiple studies have demonstrated that programs that proactively help young men of color find a connection in postsecondary education and training lead to high completion rates, greater levels of employment, and lower rates of repeat offenses.
7. Better representation in the faculty and administration. It stands to reason that if you want your student body to be more inclusive and more diverse, the instructors and leaders in the community must be as well. We have a long way to go. In California, the Campaign for College Opportunity noted that while 44% of the student body is Hispanic in higher education institutions around the state, a mere 15 percent of faculty members are Hispanic. In Florida, colleges are now requested to submit an annual equity report, which seems to be making an impact. At Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Florida, Hispanic faculty has increased by 50 percent and African American faculty increased by 14 percent between 2015 and 2016, since the implementation of the equity report.
8. Stronger professional development. We already know tomorrow’s jobs are generally unknown today, but we need to be preparing our front-line instructors to teach to that by obtaining real-world industry experience.
9. Higher faculty salaries. Salomon-Fernandez, president of Greenfield Community College herself, is quick to point that while college presidents tend to take the heat for low salaries, that’s actually out of their purview. Instead, budgets that reflect the actual labor costs of teaching students with a wide range of skills and preparedness. A well-supported, engaged faculty is a strong first step toward better student outcomes.
10. A passion for innovation. Colleges are typically steeped in tradition, but now it is vital to experiment, fail, evolve, and succeed in embracing new ways to offer education.
A transformational approach to school starts before our students leave for college.
We’re laying down a foundation for future college students with The Community School, a full-school model that delivers a unique, internationally-inspired K-12 education, with a robust plan for community outreach and partnership. Just as community colleges need to revamp their approach and bring back vibrant education, we’re starting with primary school to revitalized communities from the inside out.
Our environment isn’t just about transforming students. It’s about connecting with the families, interweaving into the community, and building up and equipping our educators.
But we can’t do this alone. Join us in transforming education into a launchpad for a more diverse, more vibrant, and more innovative world. Learn more at https://www.educationunbound.org/the-community-school or Donate today.