With Pandemic Uncertainties, More Students Considering Community College

Surveys give a glimpse at what students are thinking overall when it comes to pursuing higher education

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As the coronavirus pandemic forces universities to move classes online, some students say they might as well enroll someplace cheaper, especially when it comes to knocking out those basic requirements.

That's where community colleges are filling that need and colleges across the country are seeing an increase in interest, according to a report by NBC News.

Locally, Dallas County Community College District just wrapped up a survey to students, getting a feel for what they needed to move forward with their future amid the pandemic.

Two findings stand out:

  • Fifty-two percent of students said they would be more interested in online summer school now, after transitioning to online classes these last few months.
  • Forty-nine percent said they would be interested in pursuing their entire degrees 100% online.

“We saw a tremendous shift of students really shifting to predominantly being OK with online education, where in the past not all of them were,” said DCCCD Chancellor Joe May. “Many of them still prefer that face to face but they understand it’s not going to necessarily be our reality in today’s world.”

Here’s why -- if students are going to have to pay for coursework that remains online, many say they might as well do it at community colleges that charge less than half as much for it.

“We’re really thinking about how to help them navigate first through a system that is in great flux and great change,” said May. “When we talk about the importance of education, it’s how do we make that available when the world seems to be changing all around us in ways that are making it difficult and putting up barriers? And for so many of our students, those barriers already existed. These are new ones, ones they hadn’t anticipated or seen coming.”

There's also the concern among students for a spike in coronavirus cases later this winter that health experts are predicting. Being far from home during another potential shut down might not sound appealing.

“This won’t last forever. Will the world be the same as it was in 2019? No, never again,” said May.

Another survey conducted in late April by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the American Council on Education offers more insight nationally. It shows 17% of college students don’t plan to return in the fall or don’t know yet whether they will.

And another April survey by consulting firm SimpsonScarborough found that 4% of current students said they will enroll somewhere else if their institutions provide only online instruction. That same report says one in 10 high school seniors who were planning to attend a four-year college or university before the pandemic have also already made alternative plans, and nearly half of those have said they will enroll at a community college.

May says DCCCD was already largely online in many ways even before the pandemic, with both staff and students already adjusted to that style of coursework for some or all of their classes.

“It did give us an advantage when it came to shift online because we already had so many faculty that were just so good in the media,” said May. “They had that ability to help those who weren’t yet up to speed get there very quickly.”

May said he’s also seeing a trend in students looking for programs that lead directly to jobs. Their surveys show while students are still pursuing long term degrees, short term certificates are helping them compete for much needed immediate work.

“We think that shift is because of the immediate need that people have to go get an education but also the reality is, they need to work and support themselves and their families,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean degrees are not important. It’s just that they need that step along the way and they’d rather get an IT certificate that would allow them to go to work while they continue their education, or maybe healthcare certification and continue toward that associate or bachelor’s degree.”

Tarrant County College is also seeing a slight increase in summer enrollment but it’s still too early to tell for the fall semester.  Fall registration will remain open until August 23 and the district said it does expect robust enrollment for online courses. TCC was ranked the nation’s number 1 online community college by Intelligent.com a few months ago.

There are some things to keep in mind if students consider their community college options, like trouble transferring their credits back to a four-year university. And high school graduates who were already planning to go to a university for the fall semester might have to reapply if they alter their plans through a community college this year. Talk to your admissions office for more information.

Still, with so many uncertainties in the world -- a pandemic and civil injustice taking the forefront of our lives -- chancellor May said the youth need to stay strong in what they believe in without losing hope for their own futures.

“I think we can really support those that aspire for all of us to have a better life,”he said. “Live in peace together and work together and be a community together. I think that’s what, in education, we will always support.”

For admissions help with local community colleges, click the links below:

Dallas County Community College District

Tarrant County College

North Central Texas College

Collin College

Trinity Valley Community College

Navarro College

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