Community colleges play an important role in our economy and society. They provide an affordable pathway to a four-year degree for millions of students, and they offer critical job training and retraining programs that keep our workforce nimble and adaptable. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges facing community colleges, but it has also created new opportunities for these institutions to be innovative and nimble in their approach to student success. Here are three examples of how community colleges are driving student success during these unprecedented times:
1) Offering flexible learning options: One way community colleges are increasing student engagement is by offering more flexible learning options. According to a recent survey by the Babson Survey Research Group, nearly half of all community college chief academic officers say their institution offers more online courses now than it did pre-pandemic. And, as more students seek out flexible learning options that fit their busy schedules, this trend is likely to continue post-pandemic as well.
2) Focusing on career readiness: Another way community colleges are preparing students for success is by focusing on career readiness. A recent survey by Strada Education Network found that nearly 80% of employers say they would hire a candidate with relevant experience over one with a four-year degree but no experience. In response, many community colleges are revamping their curriculum to include more hands-on learning opportunities and work-based experiences like internships and externships.
3) Supporting non-traditional students: Community colleges are also increasing student engagement by supporting non-traditional students—those who are older, working full-time, or raising families—in achieving their educational goals. According to a report from the Association of Community College Trustees, nearly 60% of community college students are non-traditional learners. To support this growing population of students, many institutions are offering flexible scheduling options, providing childcare services, and offering financial aid counseling and other support services.
The massive ripple effects of COVID-19 have reached every corner of the higher education industry throughout the pandemic. Community colleges in particular have felt the sting.According to the latest National Student Clearinghouse Research Center enrollment report, community college enrollment fell by 11.3% in the spring 2021 semester. For students between the ages of 18 and 20 (a group that comprises more than 40% of all undergraduates), enrollment declined by 7.2% during that period. The steepest drop in enrollment occurred at community colleges, where it tumbled 14.6% this spring. To help turn the tide, many community colleges are doubling down on their student engagement strategies.
Community colleges play an essential role in our economy and society—providing an affordable pathway to a four-year degree for millions of students and offering critical job training programs that keep our workforce nimble and adaptable. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges facing these institutions, but it has also created new opportunities for them to be innovative in their approach to student success. By offering flexible learning options, focusing on career readiness, and supporting non-traditional learners, community colleges are helping ensure that everyone has a chance to succeed—no matter what life throws their way.