Message from Dr. Belinda S. Miles: For Whom We Persist – October 16, 2020
October 16, 2020
This morning I attended a webinar hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) on data collected by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center which tracks college enrollments. Nearly all colleges and universities have seen declining enrollments this fall as we continue to endure through the pandemic. Our own enrollment is on par with the national trend for community colleges, but this fact should not bring comfort to any of us. Our ability to fulfill our mission, prepare the future workforce, and sustain our operations is threatened by diminishing enrollments. It is the work of each of us to reverse this trend.
We have heard of some of our students opting for a “Gap Year” following the spring 2020 semester. This option may do more harm than good to community college students. Postponing studies will likely further equity gaps between those who are advancing and those who are not. We do not want nor should we allow this for our students or our region.
We all know the challenges we faced last March as we transitioned to remote operations. Our students were deeply affected in many ways – access to technology, food insecurity, housing insecurity, loss of jobs, taking care of family and children, myriad COVID-19 related challenges – all while trying to keep up with their studies. But Westchester Community College has advanced so much further since March 2020! We need to be sure that our students understand this, especially those who are interested in attending but think that remote studies are beyond their ability.
We invested heavily in professional development for our faculty and I am proud to say that 100% of our faculty members are certified and have the skills necessary to teach online and remote classes. I have heard from deans and from faculty that students are thriving in their classes, that innovative teaching is occurring in and outside of the classroom, and that students are meaningfully engaged and making progress in this learning environment.
It is our job and our mission to ensure that all students who want access to higher education have it. Community colleges were formed to meet students where they are and none of us should be satisfied in knowing that we allowed the most vulnerable of our students to miss any opportunity to learn, grow, engage, and have a chance to improve their economic and social mobility.
I see parallels with Tuckman’s (1965) model of “forming, storming, norming, and performing” as we consider our work and what we have achieved to date.
- Forming: We faced a global pandemic with our county at the epicenter. We were immediately affected by COVID-19.
- Storming: We took immediate action with remote teaching, learning, and operations. We joined forces to provide laptops, emergency resources, and other services to students. It was messy at times, but we worked together, collaborating across the college community to make it work.
- Norming: Over the summer, we provided students with a strong academic experience while simultaneously working to ensure a strong start for the fall semester. And we continued to hone our skills and adjust as needed.
- Performing: You have acquired valuable tools and resources over the past several months to help you succeed in your job. Working together, we have continued to carry on our traditions and have reconfigured so many events – Zooming through our days, celebrating our students, and continuously learning in a variety of ways.
We are not the same institution that we were in the spring. The student experience has evolved to encompass online and remote access to robust and impactful interactions with our faculty and staff. We are grateful for the many talented individuals who make this possible by bringing their very best to their work during these challenging times.
While we can take pride in our accomplishments, there is still much to be done to grow our enrollment. We can and must compete in this environment. We must be resolute in supporting our students as they work to achieve their goals.
This article reminds us of the challenges students continue to face. For many of them, little has changed since the pandemic hit. And for too many, things have gotten even worse. As we welcome new students – many from 4-year colleges, many displaced or retooling during the pandemic – we must also challenge ourselves to consider what it takes to reach and support the talented students who are among our most vulnerable.
This is an ongoing conversation that deserves our attention and action as we consider why, how, and for whom we persist. I look forward to sharing additional information at our State of the College on October 29 at 4 PM and, as always, I welcome your feedback.
Dr. Belinda S. Miles