A different first day | Confessions of a Community College Dean

Wednesday was the first day of the spring semester.

It was like a first day, but not to the extent it was in the pre-COVID era.

We run classes in multiple formats – in-person, live remote, hybrid, and asynchronous online. Before COVID, we were mostly in person; now it’s about half (depending on whether you count students or sections). We have not been immune to the national decline in community college enrollment, and spring enrollment is almost always lower than fall enrollment. So the combination of a secular trend of declining enrollment with a seasonal trend, and then moving about half of the remaining enrollment online, led to a less crowded campus than usual for a first day.

In some ways, it’s great. Parking hasn’t been the headache it used to be. Insofar as fewer people help prevent contagion, that’s obviously a good thing. It also made managing the test-or-vax term a little easier than it would have been if twice as many students showed up.

Of course, “easier” does not mean “easy”. It was a heavy burden. My hats off to the people at student affairs who did an outstanding job of making this happen. Our rule is that everyone on campus must either be vaxed (with documentation uploaded to our system) or tested on a weekly basis (with documentation uploaded to our system). They must also wear masks inside the campus. Students can withdraw while fully online, but even students who are fully online must certify that they are fully online (and indicate this in our system). Students taking classes in high schools follow high school rules.

I’m glad we covered as many bases as we have. but the implementation is a bit of a beast. Some people signed up at the last minute and then tested at the last minute, creating a backlog. There is an unavoidable delay between the test and the receipt of test results. Downloading the documentation proved difficult for many. Testing capacity can be an issue. And there’s no shortage of “but what about” scenarios that require quick personalized decisions. Given all that, a smaller crowd on opening day has a silver lining.

Necessary as they were, conversations about security measures took up some of the bandwidth that would normally have been devoted to more ambitious goals. It makes sense; health is as basic a need as food and transportation.

The return of the students brought back that sense of aspiration. They brought it with them. They are there to improve their lives. It obviously involves survival, but it’s so much more than that. And on the first day of class, no one is late yet. Everything is possible. Someone will surprise themselves by discovering a talent or a passion that they did not know they had. Someone will have that light bulb moment where everything suddenly clicks into place. Someone will turn a corner.

Welcome to all. I’m glad you’re here.

About Homer Yonker

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