Message from Dr. Belinda S. Miles: Educating Students for Immediate and Future Needs
January 22, 2021
In a few days, spring semester begins anew, with students meeting their professors and each other in our virtual formats and finding their ways to the myriad academic supports, student activities, and counseling services that we have refined and continue to perfect in this most unusual, prolonged, and potentially isolating situation. We know from this recent article in The Hechinger Report that we will be missing one 18-year-old student who enjoyed five courses at WCC last fall but will not be taking any classes this spring as he pursues entrepreneurship and earning income through a variety of “side hustles.” This story humanizes what might not be evident in our persistence data, it tells us what many of our students may be thinking and experiencing at this time, and it stands as a stark reminder of the realities impacting students since we last opened a spring semester. More importantly, it is a clarion call to address students’ short-term needs while at the same time helping them see the value in pursuing long-term goals. WCC can serve as that long-term guidepost so that students can fulfill their potential and grow, making meaningful contributions to both their families and society, now and into the future.
WCC is an institution of higher learning for the new era ahead of us. The idyllic depiction of college as a residential experience among 20-year-olds attending full-time and immediately graduating into their profession or choice of graduate school describes very few of today’s college students. Prior to 2020, there were trends toward more women and minority students in college, more part-time students, more international students, more students choosing to attend online, and a decline in students choosing for-profit colleges. Advances in technology – and its rapid deployment due in large part to pandemic response – have altered the college-going experience and intensified competition for new students. Volatility hit new highs last year amid racial inequities, economic uncertainties, and health disparities. Through it all, community college is society’s essential partner in advancing economic mobility and remains the safe space providing access to high-quality education and resources to meet students’ many and diverse needs.
This past year, we have proven that we have the ability and the will to meet sudden and significant challenges and to offer students a wider variety of learning options that fit within their busy and complicated lives. These demands for learner flexibility will not stop even as COVID-19 abates as we expect it will. Equal in importance to offering relevant programs and services is developing our message to the community about this new era of higher learning. It is one in which the return-on-investment of taking a class can be immediate, and accessibility of learning options must be compatible with students’ demanding schedules and lives. These teaching and learning experiences should consider new ways to address immediate needs while simultaneously setting and achieving long-term goals. I am interested in the ways you have these conversations with your students and how we might translate that into messages to the broader community.
Dr. Belinda S. Miles