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Community Colleges See Spike in Enrollment, Thanks to Coronavirus

Students are exploring their options and opting for alternatives in light of COVID changes on traditional college campuses.

Community Colleges See Spike in Enrollment, Thanks to Coronavirus
It has been over two months since the U.S. went into lockdown mode in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. For weeks, we sat quietly at home, wondering when it would be safe to venture out to parks, restaurants and college campuses. Now, things are beginning to open up; however, there are no signs that Coronavirus is over. In fact, it’s still continuing to change the landscape of what we can and cannot do. For a lot of students, it’s impacting the next chapter of their lives: college. The Class of 2020 has been dreaming of and planning for their college career, only have to their visions completely dashed with the news that many college campuses will not be opening in the fall. At the same time, those that are reopening are doing so cautiously and with very big limitations on what students can do and where they can go. Looking for more COVID-19 student-impact information? Find it here. For students that are already enrolled in college, it’s changing how they view the experience they’ve been paying for in the past – and what they’ll be paying for next school year. It’s forcing them to ask difficult questions like: Is it really worth the extra money to attend college out-of-state next year? Is it safe for me to travel? Will I just be uprooted again in the middle of the semester? In response to these scenarios, many students are moving forward with a different plan: community college.

Why Community College?

For years, community colleges were heralded as a place to get a two-year, associate’s degree. It was a low-cost higher education opportunity for students that wanted to get into a specific trade or industry and required fast, hands-on training. However, in recent years, the benefits of a community college have become more dynamic. It has become an option for students that want to get their general course requirements at a discount before transferring to a four-year institution. Now, with Coronavirus impacting how students go to college, community college is becoming a more viable alternative for students for the following reasons: • Many students are hesitant to pay full -price at a four-year institution when classes are being held online for the fall. • A four-year college has become unaffordable due to the economic impact of Coronavirus to their family. • It’s easier to commit to a community college than a four-year institution amid so much uncertainty. • Those who have had the experience of being uprooted from their campus in the middle of the semester prefer to stay closer to home in the event of a second outbreak of Coronavirus. As a result of these concerns, community colleges are seeing a huge uptick in numbers. Simpson Scarborough, a higher education research agency, conducted a study in April to assess how students feel about their college choices in light of Coronavirus. According to the study, 10% of high school seniors who had plans to attend college in the fall stated that they have made alternative plans. Half of those students will now be attending community college. Foothill College, a community college in California, saw enrollment numbers increase by 314% over the same time last year, according to Hechinger Report. The same article noted that Lake Tahoe Community College saw a 4% increase, and Everett Community College in Washington has heard from more local high school students as well as college students who are opting to stay home instead of going back to college than in years past. Finally, some community colleges are responding to Coronavirus with enticing offers to students. Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio is providing free tuition to all students that have been impacted financially by Coronavirus, states Hechinger Report. Maui Now reports that the University of Hawai’i is offering free online summer courses to the Class of 2020 to help prepare them for college as well as explore careers.

Some Caveats for Transferring from Community College

As students consider community college as an alternative to attending a four-year institution in the fall, there are a few things that students should consider. First and most importantly, students need to do some research into whether or not their credits at community colleges will transfer. It is typically easy to transfer community college credits to a public, in-state institution. Many of these colleges have had relationships with community colleges for years. However, private colleges may not have the same experience or outcome. If you’re a student that has plans to attend a four-year college once Coronavirus is no longer a threat to the typical college experience, you need to contact your admissions office now to talk through your plans of attending a community college and then transferring. They will let you know if that’s even a possibility or from which schools they accept credits from. Second, you may need to consider that you’ll forfeit your admission into a four-year college, for now. If your particular institution is not accepting deferments, they may require you to apply again as a transfer student. Depending on the size of the school, they may accept only a few transfer students each year. Given the number of students that may be transferring once COVID is over, there could potentially be some serious competition. Again, if this is your plan, you need to contact your admissions office to talk through your options. Finally, students need to be aware of transfer requirements at the schools they eventually plan to attend. For instance, Hechinger Report states that the University of Florida and University of California school systems require a minimum of 60 credits in order to accept a transfer student. That means that a student would need to spend roughly two years at a community college before transferring. Granted, leniency may be applied given the circumstances, but you need to find out the logistics before you make your final decision.

Gap Year and Online Learning

If you’re still undecided as to what to do for next fall – like many other students right now – try not to worry. There are plenty of options available to you; they just may feel a little unconventional compared to what you had planned for your life. For example, the gap year is gaining traction as an option for students for next school year. It is believed that around 3% of students typically opt for a gap year after high school; but according to data from Simpson Scarborough, that number is expected to increase to 12% this year. Check out our gap year advice for students considering this alternative. The Simpson Scarborough survey also found that when given the option, 15% of students would rather complete their instruction online versus returning to the classroom. This signals a possible beginning of college learning evolution – could we see students prefer a virtual experience to a physical classroom in the years to come? Online learning is also a great opportunity for students considering a gap year during this time. If you’re considering the switch to Online Learning, check out our brand new Online Learning Center, which will help you identify if the virtual classroom is for you and which program best suits your educational needs.

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