Institution Poised To Adapt To Pandemic Changes
WEST BARNSTABLE — It was eerily quiet at the Cape Cod Community College campus on a recent visit. The parking lot was empty, concourses vacant.
While summer traditionally is the season of fewer enrollments at the college, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact and will change the way students will be educated.
“This is part of life, learning how we navigate at this point in history,” said Cape Cod Community College President John Cox.
He anticipates greater interest in the local community college in the fall from students who might otherwise attend four-year schools. Students have some tough decisions to make, he said, especially if they are attending and residing at four-year colleges. Dormitory settings will be different, with one student per room, food service focusing on limited gatherings and student activities drilled down substantially.
“The socialization piece is not going to be what it was,” Cox said, “and the socialization process is part of education.”
Going away to college may not be attractive to students who will be living alone but still studying online. The community college offers opportunities, especially for freshmen and sophomores who are looking at staying at home. Online, remote or hybrid courses would be substantially less costly, and given the pandemic, staying at home would minimize health and safety issues. Courses from the community college can be transferred toward a bachelor’s degree at any time, he said.
Cox said he has been communicating with school superintendents on the Cape about continuing college credit courses to high school students. There has been interest, he said, noting that in April, 81 high school students were signed up for four Cape Cod Community College courses over a seven week period.
The community college will start its second summer semester on July 5. For the fall, the school's brochure provides the three course options: online work will be done with no set meeting times; remote will require all work done online with scheduled virtual meeting times during the week; and hybrid programs will blend online classes with limited time on campus for hands-on lab work and projects that allow social distancing.
Hybrid courses will be required for lab, aviation, EMT and EKG programs with no more than three students gathering at a time and meetings likely held three times during a semester for testing and certification. Cox said personal protective equipment will be provided to the students when in a classroom.
Cox said community college presidents in the state have been meeting twice a week and a broader group involving administrators from the state universities gather to discuss the avenues of educating students. In Massachusetts, the colleges are much more engaged in this process, Cox said.
But given the pandemic, “colleges will be vastly different,” he said.
Some students might decide this is the time to take a gap year. Cox does not recommend that approach, pointing out there are not a lot of jobs available now and it is not a good time to be traveling to Europe — if Americans are allowed back into the EU — in search of cultural experiences.
“With equity issues, the gap year opportunities are for very few. We’re telling people to stay engaged in education,” Cox said.
Cape Cod Community College has been doing online education for almost a decade and ramped the program over the past five years, Cox said. There is a loan program for laptops and the school can help out with connectivity issues for students. The faculty collectively rose to the occasion to get this done, he said.
“Some of this is speeding up the evolution of higher education,” Cox said. “This is one of those moments to accelerate change to give more students access to higher education at a less costly level. There will be a lot of opportunities once we get beyond the pandemic. It will be at a higher level to the pre-pandemic era.”
Overall, Cox said, the college's enrollment was up this year and it took a pandemic to bring it down. He expects to draw from students who had planned to go away to school but who have decided not to go this fall. He is encouraging those students to take a couple of courses at the community college.
As for indications of how the fall semester will go, Cox said it’s pretty early, but it appears down slightly. He said when talking to colleagues at two- and four-year schools, they say students haven’t made decisions yet. Cox predicted by late July to mid-August there will be a ground swell of activity.