As the COVID-19 pandemic settled in workplaces and homes, the subtleties of life were laid to rest.
“The pandemic has hit hard on basic needs,” said Christopher Coates, vice president of communications and planning at the Fairfax Public College (LFCC).
Students were increasingly concerned about food and housing security. When the ability to feed and shelter oneself is questioned, education becomes less of a priority.
Community colleges across the country fell by 10% of entrants. The decline in public college admissions over the past few years has been the most severe in the last 50 years.
At the national and local levels, college admission has a direct historical link to employment levels. When economic tensions are high with rising unemployment, often a concomitant increase in college admissions reflects the fact that people are turning to education to strengthen their skills for the job market.
The pandemic changed when people turned amid uncertainty as increased health risks and an unstable economy removed college from the agenda. So much so, 25% of high school graduates and 15% of college students in general dropped out of college.
As college admissions across the country declined, a few years before the LFCC pandemic was in the midst of its slight downward trend in enrollment. Quarantine in the 2019-2020 school year has become the catalyst of autumn.
That year, the LFCC lost more than 250 students across the college. Last school year saw the same accelerated decline in enrollment by about 4%.
In addition, a few years before the pandemic, the number of Germanna Community College (GCC) entrants grew by more than 15%.
“We are one of the few colleges in the country where the number of students increased during the pandemic,” said Michael Zitz, the president’s special aide for media and public relations.
GCC President Janet Gullikson did not wait for other public colleges before transferring training to almost entirely online. Gullikson’s decision was quickly made in the spring of 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic. The move “removed the uncertainty” that otherwise hurt the nation, Gullikson said.
Both the GCC and the LFCC have suggested that online learning makes education accessible to more students.
Gullikson noted that the flexibility of virtual learning “is not only attractive to many students, but also helps families” because they often combine education and work. While the GCC returned to personal learning in August 2021, they continue to offer online learning. Coates acknowledged that “portable interactions are online [can be] alienation for students ”.
No particular student demographic trends in the LFCC reflected a greater impact of COVID, as a drop in enrollment was observed throughout.
“They’re all hurt,” Coates said.
Instead of trends in enrollment, the GCC observed how the demographic completion rates of black male students were comparatively lower than in other demographic groups.
Noticing a declining trend in the success of black students, the GCC has focused on “ensuring the success of its low-income black students,” said Dr. Shashun, Vice President of Education and Workforce Development. Gray.
Their concerted efforts are in line with their “commitment (to ensure) that all students feel welcomed and valued,” said Dr. Tiffany Ray, vice president of student services and equity development. “Germanna won a $ 2.2 million federal grant to strengthen support for African American students and provide an inclusive and innovative program and training.”
The grant from the US Department of Education will be used immediately and will cover the next 5 years.
The LFCC surveyed students to understand their experiences during the pandemic, and found that more than half cited uncertainty in meeting their basic needs. In addition, almost half of the students surveyed reported anxiety.
“It’s a combination of not only food and shelter, but also depression and anxiety,” Coates said.
The discussion focused on how to raise awareness of funding available to students and provide comprehensive assistance. Coutts said the LFCC’s goal is “to remove barriers so people can focus on their education”.
The LFCC website page is dedicated to community resources, one of which is Single Stop, which functions as a middle ground for assessing students ’situations and connecting them to relevant resources for help.
The LFCC identifies itself as a “door to the workforce,” Coates said. In this way, they focus on financial support programs that prepare students for a career in dire need. An example is the Virginia G3 program, which offers assistance in college education for eligible students.
“Vacancies are available, training is available, and in many cases it is fully covered,” Coates said. “It’s right here and we can help.”
Seeking to overcome uncertainty-based issues, Couts said the LFCC’s recruitment efforts have been “focused on eliminating this paralysis and uncertainty” combined with active outreach to find students who will benefit from what the school has to offer.
As for the need to support mental health, the LFCC has approached a case with a care team dedicated to each student. Care teams consist of consultants, success coaches, counselors and more. Thanks to their tireless staff and faculty, colleges have high hopes for the future.
The spring semester showed that public colleges are finding their way forward and upward.