Students going to community colleges graduate at lower rates than their counterparts at four-year schools. They often are holding down a job or raising a family. Now, add COVID-19 to that day-to-day stress.
The Community College of Baltimore County is taking steps to try to help those students stay in school.
CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis said it wasn’t easy, but they were able to shift 3,000 classes to distance learning in two weeks.
“It’s a pretty daunting task to move in mid-semester from on-site into totally remote,” Kurtinitis said.
She said roughly a quarter of those classes are being taught online. Students in other classes are having assignments emailed to them. But not all students can connect with their professors that way.
“Some of our students don’t have technology at home,” Kurtinitis said. “Some don’t have internet. Some don’t have a laptop or you know they have their dad’s or their mom’s old computer.”
The college bought 500 laptops to loan to students who need them.
According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, only around 40 percent of community college students get their degrees. Reasons for this vary but often have something to do with life intervening. The student has a job, a family or not a lot of money. And with the addition of COVID-19, they are cut off from campus.
So, students are getting regular calls from the school to touch base on how they’re doing, how they are dealing with the isolation. Kurtinitis said CCBC is keeping all of its 4,000 employees on the payroll. Some of them are now calling students.
“If we have somebody who is normally supposed to do one job but they can’t do it because they’re at home, then we turn them into people who call students and reach out to them and just say ‘hi, what do you need, tell me,'" she said.
Vivian Delgado, who is 18, lives in Middle River, and is studying to be a histotechnologist at CCBC’s Essex campus. A histotechnologist works in a lab and treats tissues with special dyes and chemicals that help pathologists diagnose diseases. When the campus first closed, she was worried because she is taking science classes with labs and lectures.
But, she said, actually classes have gone well so far, thanks to a combination of Zoom calls, online virtual labs and YouTube videos. What she does miss, though, is social contact on campus. Delgado said she is getting those check-in calls from CCBC and that helps.
“Because I know that there are people that are just giving up in all of this, but having CCBC telling you that if you need online resources, if you need community resources, they’re just willing to help you,” Delgado said. “And it’s nice to know that they’re there for us.”
Kurtinitis said some students are withdrawing from classes and she gets that.
“They signed up for a class, in seat, talking to the professor, talking to their classmates. Now they are remote, isolated.”
CCBC is giving students until May 1 to withdraw from a class without academic penalty. They also plan to offer vouchers so students who withdraw can retake the class later.
When he presented his proposed budget last week, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said CCBC will be able to freeze in-county tuition for the second straight year.
“Knowing that in difficult times, access to job training and higher education becomes even more important,” Olszewski said in his budget message.
When the COVID-19 state of emergency is over, Kurtinitis said some parents might opt to take advantage of that tuition freeze. They will want to play it safe and keep their children at home and enrolled in a community college at first, rather than sending them away to school.