Message from Dr. Belinda S. Miles – New patterns, pathways & paradigms
April 16, 2021
Fall 2021 registration begins on Monday. While we can be optimistic that the increasing availability of vaccines will result in more enrollments in the fall, many individuals from our local area continue to face uncertainty in their lives due to the ongoing pandemic and corresponding poor economy. Accordingly, new patterns are emerging that demand more flexible options as current and potential students figure out how to manage picking up extra work to help their families survive, childcare and ongoing homeschooling, taking care of loved ones, or other activities that must be managed alongside academic endeavors.
We learned over the past year that students need relevant programs and flexible schedules that also allow them to meet other commitments. Therefore, our focus must be on our programs, class offerings, and schedules to ensure that we offer what students need when they need it – and that we are intentional in meeting them where they are. This is partly why community colleges were established.
In addition to volatile personal and societal conditions, higher education has experienced serious declines in enrollments, in part, because of the diminishing pipeline of high school students into higher education, and especially for Black and Hispanic students. According to this Chronicle of Higher Ed piece, Fall 2020 enrollments of first-time students at community colleges declined 27.5% for Hispanic students and 28.4% for Black students from the previous year. One bright spot among the various data points is the success of the Educational Opportunity Program, which was the focus of a visit by SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras to Westchester Community College today. Together with Professor and EOP Director Gwen Roundtree Evans, EOP students Tamisis Mejia and Jasmin Lopez, and EOP colleagues from Purchase College, we were able to highlight our excellence and outcomes while thanking NYS Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Senator Shelly Mayer for their roles in expanding resources for opportunity programs across the state. It was a particularly proud moment to see our exemplary students address news media and share the life-changing impact of the EOP programs on their academic and career goals.
Several years ago, our college community began to adapt some of the best practices of programs like EOP such as targeted advising, personal counseling, cohort management, tutoring and academic support to create new models of student support that improve outcomes for more students. Our Viking ROADS, Title V initiatives, and other cohort-based programs are yielding evidence of promising emerging practices. Just one year ago, we collaborated across the college in response to the rising pandemic, pivoting to new instructional modalities and student service processes in a matter of weeks.
We need to continue this growth mindset and agility in our approach to serving our students. This can help us expand access to higher education for our most vulnerable students who may be struggling to stay in school and open the doors for new students who may need to access learning that co-exists with other aspects of their lives. This may mean new scheduling patterns, new versions of “semesters”, new curriculum designs, and ways of teaching to adapt to when, where, and how students are learning in these unprecedented times. Having such agility to engage our students in these various ways of learning facilitates their success, makes us stronger as an institution and propels our students to achieve their educational dreams! Go VIKINGS!
Dr. Belinda S. Miles