A snapshot of resilience and excellence – Community College Daily

A new report from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) summarizes the challenges community colleges have faced during the Covid pandemic and their responses. It covers a wide area including enrollment declines, the equal opportunities agenda, pandemic excellence and partnerships, as well as the changing landscape and emerging competition.

The 20-page report summarizes information gathered during AACC’s 2021-2022 virtual listening tour, which was attended by community college CEOs from 45 states. The report is grouped into broad categories with brief examples of different programs and efforts that biennial colleges and other related organizations have undertaken to address these issues, many of which continue to this day. AACC will use the information to help the association identify priorities for its member universities and how AACC can support them.

Remaining challenges, promising practices

The report begins with enrollments that were already declining for several years before the pandemic at community colleges. Covid accelerated the decline as many students went into “survival mode” and put college on hold. The report lists several notable approaches to addressing these declines, including dual matriculation programs, which a growing number of community colleges were expanding before the pandemic, and cooperative colleges. It cites programs such as the Montana Project 10, which is modeled after the successful CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, and the Kentucky Madisonville Community College Accelerator program, which is geared towards adult learners.

The AACC report highlights several new and expanding programs in the academic and professional space, including cybersecurity, professional addiction counseling, direct-entry midwives, drones, and the cannabis business.

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Enrollment is a relief for students. This section is broken down by tuition, fees, textbooks, and hours of operation, as well as data usage and student support services such as online guidance, distance learning counseling, and success coaches. It also publishes practices to address food and housing insecurity and students’ mental health.

Another section of the report focuses on equal opportunities, from career development to program evaluation. Included here is a list of justice centers and teaching resources that colleges have used. The report also includes brief descriptions of programs focused on justice, such as the Black Men in K-12 Teaching Pipeline at Normandale Community College (Minnesota) and the Honors Program conducted at Mississippi Community Colleges.

looking ahead

Finally, the report looks at emerging changes facing community colleges, from the ongoing threat of cybersecurity issues – such as ransomware – to accreditation, the use of space on campus and in institutions, to the growing competition from four-year colleges and the private sector.

Regarding accreditation, university leaders have told AACC that the current accreditation approach is not flexible enough.

“New programs delivered in non-traditional ways have been rejected by regional accreditation bodies, even as colleges need to remain adaptable, flexible and nimble to prepare workers for current and future jobs,” the report said.

In terms of the use of space on campus and in facilities, many colleges are rethinking their use as teaching modalities change. The adjustments needed during the pandemic have sparked a desire among more students to complete programs remotely, prompting colleges to look at how they use their space on campuses and in buildings.

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University leaders also shared their views on competition in the biennial sector. Historically, for-profit institutions have been a major competitor for community colleges, but more recently, four-year institutions are entering areas that were typically the domain of two-year colleges, the report said.

“Since the pandemic began, universities have aggressively offered associate degrees and staff development programs in what community colleges would describe as the mission of community colleges,” it said.

Added to this is growing competition from the private sector. The report finds that companies like Google and Amazon Web Services have created their own curriculum but have not yet mastered full-scale deployment. To remain competitive with these companies, some community colleges have chosen to partner with them and embed the curriculum into their own offerings.