Resilience: Community Colleges Respond to COVID-19

Resilience: Community Colleges Respond to COVID-19

Built to Thrive

Overcoming the Challenges Presented by COVID-19 as a Community

Boston’s community colleges are adaptable, flexible, and equipped to respond to a variety of unique challenges – including those presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our programs are accessible, affordable, and designed to meet a singular goal: to prepare students for future success. Our comprehensive courses are based on real-world industry needs, and we take pride in providing student support resources, both in and outside of the virtual classroom. While the COVID-19 pandemic created unforeseen challenges, our approach to finding solutions remains the same: student success is prioritized, and we remain committed to working with industry leaders to provide Boston with a skilled, trained, and knowledgeable workforce.

A Community Effort

Leaders and educators across the nation were called to react quickly to protect the health and safety of their students, faculty, and staff. The leadership team at Roxbury Community College (RCC) understood that every decision we made, however small, would have a profound impact on the student experience. We also took-into- account that the students we serve faced significant non-academic barriers before the COVID-19 outbreak, and were likely to continue to be disproportionally impacted during the pandemic. After careful deliberation, and adhering to the recommendations of the CDC and the MA Department of Public Health, we decided to adopt a remote access learning model.

Adopting a remote learning model can only succeed when the tools and resources are accessible to all parties. Knowing this, we reached out to each student to gauge their unique knowledge of, and level of access to, remote learning resources. These individual assessments allowed RCC to provide students with digital devices and Wi-Fi hot spot access, and a library of online support resources on a personalized, case-by-case basis.

“The landscape of education has changed fundamentally, and community colleges will serve as major contributors to the systemic improvements and innovative learning solutions that are required for Boston to thrive.”

RCC also issued a number of surveys to our students, faculty, and staff, and utilized our digital communication platforms to involve our community in response planning right from the start. We made decisions based on data, as well as input from students, faculty, and all other facets of our community. Perhaps most importantly, we kept in constant communication with everyone, even when updates were minor, to keep the RCC community unified, informed, and engaged throughout each stage of this transition.

Lessons Learned

Developing and executing a transition to remote learning reinforced what college leaders already knew: we serve a community that has unequal access to technology, housing, financial support, and many other assets that are crucial to educational success.  Although we are thrilled that our students have continued to access to tutoring support, advising support, services from Project Access, and other college resources to complete their Spring 2020 studies, we are not surprised that a small percentage were unable to complete their studies during the Stay at Home order. RCC is committed to closing these resource gaps in order to provide the opportunity to earn a degree, either on-campus or from home, to all learners.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced major segments of Boston’s economy to close, resulting in historic unemployment.  Now, more than ever, community colleges have a significant role to play in preparing the workforce for the future.

Looking Forward

As we navigate through these unprecedented times, community college leaders remain focused on the future. The landscape of education has changed fundamentally, and community colleges will serve as major contributors to the systemic improvements and innovative learning solutions that are required for Boston to thrive.

As we rebound from this peak virus transmission period and prepare for future waves we, as a city, must:

  • increase the number of healthcare workers
  • provide adequate access to mental health services
  • increase our understanding of COVID-19 by augmenting the number of skilled lab workers
  • understand the changes needed in our local economy, especially to supply chain management
  • provide technology to support new business models
  • change business models to help small businesses survive
  • ensure that affected communities have more adequate resources, including healthcare, childcare, and assistance in finding employment

At RCC, we are starting to address this laundry list through a sustained, systematic approach. To begin, effective Fall 2020, all RCC students in need of a laptop or Wi-Fi hot spot will have these assets on loan from the college, starting the moment their classes begin. Throughout the summer, faculty will participate in a training series to solidify their online teaching skill sets. We will also continue to meet with industry leaders, to develop programs that address workforce needs, and to prioritize the development of programs that lead to immediate employment.  Additionally, we are modifying our scholarship criteria to award more need-based scholarships, so that students have funding for both academic and non-academic needs.

While significant progress has been made over the past few months, this is only the beginning. We will continue to prioritize student success and to work with a broad coalition of experts to ensure that our community is adequately served, both during and after the pandemic.

We remain future-focused at RCC, and will continue to ensure that our students and all members of the Greater Boston community have access to education regardless of circumstance.

Select one of the panels below to learn more about how Roxbury Community College and Bunker Hill Community College are responding to COVID-19 while helping students adapt and thrive.