Two different pictures are being painted for community colleges in the post-COVID-19 future. And no one knows when that future might be. Some people think community college enrollment will soar if college-age students want to remain close to home during the pandemic. Others say that under-funded community colleges are unlikely to survive long enough to see any predicted enrollment gains.
Students overwhelmingly prefer in-person instruction, so in-person classes may draw in more students. Fall semester is typically when a community college’s enrollment peaks. A third consecutive online semester could be devastating for them.
As fall approaches, many four-year universities are opting to re-open their classrooms. Opening a classroom is not as hard as opening a dormitory, offering public transportation on campus or holding sporting events. All of these activities also appeal to students. Their absence could cause some students to change their fall plans.
However, most community colleges are planning another virtual semester for the fall. This is somewhat counterintuitive, since community colleges have a lot to lose by not conducting at least certain classes on campus. Community college students are also less likely to succeed in online courses; they fare better with in-person instructional support. Online classes could cause students to perform poorly or withdraw from classes. Worse, the negative effects of performing poorly in online classes could carry over for semesters afterward.
In recessions, students flock to community colleges, but one thing is clear: this isn’t a regular recession. Right now, about 1 in 4 working-age adults in Michigan aren’t working. Their job losses may or may not be permanent. But they represent a potential tsunami of students of all ages and academic abilities. At the same time, community college funding may be sagging.
Post-COVID-19 scenarios demand administrative efficiency
WCC receives most of its budget from local property taxes, but tuition revenues and the state appropriation could be vulnerable. In addition, the College’s “other” income – mostly from workforce development and summer training programs – has dried up. It may come back post-COVID-19, but as the pandemic drags on, more companies report that it will take longer for them to recover. Nearly half of companies report that their training budget has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Budget cuts may put additional pressure on WCC during the pandemic.
Regardless of which post-COVID-19 future awaits WCC, trimming administrative expenses to the bone is an excellent strategy. WCC has recently laid off several workers in the independent group. While that could relieve some pressure on administrative costs, it does not take the place of improving administrative efficiency. The president’s recent admission that her administration has done nothing in the past about recognized inefficiencies is troubling. Whether WCC’s’ future is bright or dark, streamlining WCC’s administration and making it highly efficient will have a positive impact regardless of what WCC’s post-COVID-19 future holds.
Photo Credit: Stephen Yeargin, via Flickr