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Recovering from COVID-19 in Washtenaw County

The possibility of a “recovery” from COVID-19 in Washtenaw County is exciting. It will also require a lot of work, especially on WCC’s part. The early data that describes the impact of the pandemic on the education system isn’t pretty.

Although WCC doesn’t interact with most Washtenaw County high school students directly, it will feel COVID-19’s impact for quite a while. There’s little doubt that children in the K-12 system have fallen behind, according to the Michigan Curriculum Framework. For the most part, that is the K-12 system’s problem, but it will still impact WCC in at least three significant ways.

COVID-19’s impact on high school students

First, the K-12 system won’t get the opportunity to “catch-up” graduating seniors. Simply running them through the standard placement tests isn’t the right move in many cases. These students will need additional support in 100-level courses because they likely lack an appropriate senior year foundation. (They may be missing basic skills – like using a scientific calculator.) Placing them in remedial classes is a good way to ensure they do not graduate at all. WCC will need a plan for supporting 2021 high school graduates – especially in STEM programs.

Second, the number of high school drop-outs has increased. This is perhaps one of the most tragic consequences of “Zoom School.” Students lost the in-person connections they would have had to keep them on track. With it, they lost connections to teachers who would have reviewed their college entrance essays and counselors who would have helped them complete the FAFSA. They lost the opportunity to focus exclusively on schoolwork because of competing home-life interests. Some students dropped out to take on more hours at work, to help support their families. Others needed to manage younger siblings and their struggles to complete online school assignments. These students will need a robust GED program to support them if and when they return to school.

Third, the number of students who successfully completed the FAFSA was down by more than 10% in the waning days of many state-level application windows. Without completing this form, would-be students are closed out of many state-level financial aid opportunities. The federal deadline is June 30, but as college application deadlines pass, so does the likelihood that these students will enroll in the Fall.

Fourth, they’re probably really angry. They’ve missed their entire senior year, and nothing will replace that. WCC will need to provide mental health services for them.

The long-tail impact of COVID-19 in Washtenaw County

These are just the most prominent impacts of COVID-19. There will be a long-tail effect of COVID-19 in Washtenaw County, too, as subsequent classes of students approach high school graduation. COVID-19 related gaps in their education will appear as these students prepare to take the SAT or ACT. Additional weaknesses will appear in the results of standardized tests that all K-12 students take. K-12 schools will struggle to address these weaknesses while also meeting the State’s grade-level requirements.

The impacts of COVID-19 in Washtenaw County will also continue for previously enrolled students and adult learners. Recovering these students will not be easy, quick or inexpensive. It will require WCC to focus almost exclusively on student needs for the remainder of the decade.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on adult learners.

Photo Credit: James Wages , via Flickr