• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Friday Fragments

An apology, working from home, enrollment projections and a quirky fact.

April 10, 2020
 
 

Fair is fair. I gave The Chronicle some static earlier this week for a story about how “U.S. higher education” was responding to the coronavirus, noting that it didn’t include any community colleges.

The author, Lindsay Ellis, let me know that it was part two of a series, and that part one focused specifically on community colleges in Seattle.

She’s right. My apologies for jumping too quickly.

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I have never seen a less certain time for enrollment projections than right now.

Causes for concern: early enrollments for fall are down; many students don’t like remote learning; families are losing income through business closures, furloughs and/or pay cuts; and we’re still dealing with the underlying secular trend of a declining number of 18-year-olds in most regions. And this recession is different from most, so past patterns may not hold.

Causes for optimism: recessions typically boost enrollments at community colleges through a combination of lower opportunity cost and the increased market salience of price. Also, to the extent that students are concerned that they’ll be interrupted again at Pricey U and sent home to work online, why not take much more affordable (and often better) online classes at the local community college instead? If you aren’t getting “the college experience” anyway, why pay for it? Besides, if the alternative to college is sitting at home doing nothing, we tend to win.

Both sets of reasons are compelling. I have no idea how they compare in scale. That makes planning for the fall particularly difficult. We could be facing anything from a historic drop to a historic jump. If ever there were an argument for solid underlying funding levels not reliant on tuition, this is it. Whether we get far fewer students or far more, they still deserve a terrific education.

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I’m still trying to figure out why I’m more tired at the end of a day of working from home than I am at the end of a day working on campus. The kids are old enough, and self-sufficient enough, that it’s not from watching them. (A serious tip o’ the cap to the parents working from home while trying to ride herd on preschoolers, or homeschool 8-year-olds. That must be utterly exhausting.) It’s the work itself.

Part of it, I think, comes from expectations. At work, I expect to be focused on work. At home, part of me still thinks that this is where I can relax. The dissonance between needing to work and being in my usual relaxation spot takes some energy. Zoom meetings, for all of their virtues, can be more intense than in-person ones. Admittedly, the shorter commute is nice, and I have no problem at all ditching the ties for a while, but it still seems stressful.

Of course, it’s hard to separate that stress from the stress underlying all of it. Pandemics aren’t known for being relaxing.

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From the “I wouldn’t have thought of that” files: when I braved the grocery store earlier this week, one of the items that had been entirely cleaned out was dishwasher detergent. It makes sense, though; with people cooking at home more, they’re washing more dishes. I’m guessing that the combination of the virus shutdowns with Easter and Passover on the same weekend probably made it that much worse. But still, I had never seen the dishwasher detergent section entirely empty. That was new.

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Best wishes to all who celebrate either for a wonderful holiday.

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