40% of all undergraduates in the US are community college students, totaling 8.2 million across more than 1,400 community colleges.  Community colleges are higher education’s open door, offering more opportunities for students to earn degrees due to cost, proximity and other factors. However, enrollment statistics and the education offerings provided by community colleges are ever evolving, especially in light of the 2020 global pandemic.

These dynamic institutions are responsive to their local community needs and increasingly to the global community as more community college courses are offered online.  With new factors and considerations influencing these colleges, here are some notable updates and news coming out of community colleges in today’s rapidly changing academic world. 

The Pandemic Caused a Significant Decline in US Community College Enrollment

Due to the pandemic, there has been a “chilling” decrease in community college enrollment in the US. The number of students enrolled in community colleges – local educational institutions that offer two-year courses – was down by 9.5% this past spring. This reality represents a loss of approximately 476,000 students when compared with the spring of 2020, according to National Student Clearinghouse data released last month.

The majority of enrollment drops at community colleges were seen by educational institutions’ youngest students between the ages 18 to 24. In general, community colleges saw the steepest declines when compared to four-year institutions and graduate schools.

North Carolina Senate Releases Budget Affecting Its Community Colleges

In June, the North Carolina Senate released its two-year spending plan for the state, and will be funding community colleges with $1.26 billion in 2021-22 and $1.32 billion in 2022-23. The senate’s proposed budget includes a 3% raise for community college personnel over the next two years. It would provide funding for an across-the-board salary increase of 1.5% effective July 1, 2021. An additional increase of 1.5% would be effective July 1, 2022. The budget also addresses enrollment declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic by allocating $76 million for budget stabilization for community colleges, which is a portion of North Carolina’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

Additionally, the North Carolina Senate is allocating $5.2 million over the biennium to help community colleges start new programs in high-demand career fields that require significant start-up funds. The budget is also allocating $3 million for each year of the biennium for a community college short-term workforce grant program, which would provide a maximum of $750 to students pursuing workforce credentials. There are also funds that will be earmarked for broadband in rural areas, adult learner programs and cybersecurity, among others.

Community Colleges in California Plan for a Hybrid Fall Semester

During a recent visit to Los Angeles, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona encouraged California schools and elsewhere to help students heal after a school year that most spent in isolation due to COVID-19. He stressed the importance of in-person learning at schools, such as community colleges, so that students do not sustain any further social or academic losses.

In California, most school districts plan to reopen for full in-person instruction for the upcoming fall semester, however, many of the state’s 115 in-person community colleges will be planning a hybrid fall semester, with a mix of in-person and online classes.

Community Colleges in California Commit to Diversity Initiatives with Ethnic Studies Requirement

Diversity and inclusion are becoming top-of-mind in today’s schools, as a healthy variety of students from different backgrounds and cultures provides a balance of voices both on campus and in the classroom content itself.  Community colleges in California will soon require students to take ethnic studies. Under this requirement, students will have to take a class in African American studies, Native American studies, Asian American studies or Latina and Latino studies. Overall, this requirement is aimed at helping students to learn about the histories and contributions of nonwhite ethnic groups. It will affect students at California’s 115 community colleges that award degrees.

Community Colleges are Keeping Accessibility Top-of-Mind

Verbit is currently working with community colleges across the US, including Virginia Western Community College and several others to ensure that they’re meeting the needs of today’s students. Even as schools enlist hybrid approaches to learning, ensuring remote learners and disability needs are met is critical.

As community college students, professors and leaders plan for the upcoming fall semester, Verbit is providing them with helpful guidance to ensure that experiences for students are fully inclusive, whether occurring online or in-person. Verbit’s transcription and captioning solutions are being implemented in their next semester plans to provide a multitude of students with accessibility and engagement tools and support, in addition to meeting the needs of those with disabilities. Click here for further information.