• 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

What We Know and Don't Know

Taking stock.

April 27, 2020
 
 
  • We don’t know when we’ll be able to return to campus, or in what numbers, or for how long before a possible second wave.
  • We know that our first two summer sessions will be online.
  • We don’t know the effects on summer and fall enrollment.
  • We know that, over the last 10 years, the share of the budget covered by students ​through tuition and fees has increased significantly.
  • We know that if enrollment drops dramatically, and we don’t get some sort of significant increase in federal support (even if indirectly through the state), we’ll be looking at some pretty drastic options sooner rather than later.
  • We know that plenty of college students in our area go to out-of-state colleges and universities, for which they’re paying several multiples of what they’d pay to come here.
  • We know that those other colleges and universities are subject to the same pandemic we are. In some ways, they’re more vulnerable, because they have dorms. We don’t.
  • We don’t know how many of those students, faced with the prospect of paying upwards of $50,000 to be isolated, remote and online, would opt instead for a more reasonably priced local alternative.
  • We know that historically, recessions have boosted community college enrollment. That happens through reduced opportunity cost -- we’re competing with unemployment, rather than competing with jobs -- and some families that would have sent their kids someplace more expensive suddenly become more cost conscious.
  • We don’t know if that pattern will hold this year, given the abrupt and bizarre character of this downturn.
  • We know that we supply the majority of nurses, and the supermajority of radiological technicians and respiratory therapists, in our area.
  • We don’t know how hospitals will maintain staffing levels if they lose us as a feeder.
  • We know that in a pandemic, losing access to the next group of health-care workers would be devastating to the community.
  • We know that many of our students are, themselves, parents of school-aged kids.
  • We don’t know how the K-12 schools will reopen, or what expectations they will have of parents as a reserve army of homeschoolers.
  • We know that some of our programmatic accreditors (cough rad tech cough) will not accept simulations as substitutes for clinical experience for students.
  • We don’t know when our students will have access to clinical experience again.
  • We know that internet access is uneven, with low-income and minoritized areas having the least and least reliable.
  • We know that even if we come back, many students and employees will be afraid of contagion.
  • We don’t know how many might simply refuse to show up.
  • We don’t know when routine wide-scale testing will be available.
  • We don’t even know if it would help, given that people come and go from campus every single day. The campus is not a bubble. It’s designed not to be.
  • We know that the hospitality industry is a major local employer, especially of our students, and especially in the summer.
  • We know that a great many students, and family members, have lost jobs in that industry.
  • We know that those summer jobs have been crucial to helping students afford college.
  • We don’t know when, or to what extent, those jobs will return.
  • We know that much of the public understanding of higher education comes from pieces like these, drawing on the daily reality of the Ivy League.
  • We know that as far as community colleges are concerned, articles like those are science fiction.
  • We know that some disciplines are more awkward fits for going online than others.
  • We don’t know the long-term effects on retention and completion of the spring shift to online, let alone any follow-on shifts.
  • We know why we’re here.
  • We know we’ll get through this.
  • We know there’s an election coming up.

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