The Mixed Methods Blog
Letter From the Director: Coronavirus Pandemic
What a frightening, head-spinning month we have had. Just a few weeks ago, we were making plans to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) at its annual convention. Since then, we have seen the world torn apart by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like many others across the nation, CCRC staff have canceled all travel and adjusted to working from home. These are small sacrifices, and we are grateful that everyone on our team is healthy and safe. Our deeper concern is about the effects of the pandemic on community colleges and their students, and what we can do to support their recovery.
We have been impressed by how quickly many states have issued guidance and mobilized resources to help colleges and universities respond to the crisis. We have also been impressed by the speed with which many community colleges have shifted to online instruction and made accommodations to help currently enrolled students complete the spring term. And we are encouraged by reports that the Education Department has paused collection on defaulted federal student loans and that the stimulus package completed on Tuesday night includes emergency aid to help pay for food, housing, transportation, and child care. Such support is critical to prevent struggling students from leaving college altogether.
As important as these responses are, we cannot lose sight of the need to help community colleges strengthen opportunities and improve outcomes for students in the long-term. Last week, the New York Times ran a story describing how the pandemic may widen economic and social divisions in the U.S. and abroad, particularly if it leads to massive unemployment. Community colleges are uniquely poised to respond to the unfolding crisis and support the nation’s recovery. Their ability to provide affordable education and training to students from every background—and to respond to local labor markets—can reduce poverty and restore the economy. But to meet this challenge, community colleges must be adequately financed and organized to ensure that students receive the instruction and supports they require to be successful.
CCRC does not have all the answers, but we and others have built a considerable body of knowledge on policies and strategies to strengthen community colleges and improve the education and employment outcomes of students. The pandemic—as horrific as it is—will eventually recede. Like other disasters, it offers a chance to rethink current practices and create institutions and systems that are ultimately stronger and more responsive to their communities. When campuses reopen and students start to return, CCRC will be ready to help.