By Darren Johnson
In my state of New York, many of the two-year colleges have dropped the word “community” from their names; For example, instead of the school being named XYZ County Community College, it is renamed SUNY XYZ.
I could well imagine getting rid of the word “county”. The original plan for two-year colleges in this state was that one-third of their funding should come from their host districts, but most districts are cutting their education budgets to the point where the district’s contribution is often in teenage or even single digits.
But dropping the word “community” may have had unintended consequences.
It’s no secret that enrollment for two-year colleges has dropped dramatically, particularly in New York, although a relatively new Excelsior grant makes them free for virtually everyone. The Free College initiative showed no marketing push — enrollments continued to decline. And then Covid struck. Four-year public colleges are largely recovering, but two-year colleges remain in free fall.
Omitting the word “community” might have been a bit pretentious to tell the world that the credits earned at a two-year college are every bit as good as those earned at a four-year college, but it misjudged audiences.
While marketing admins themselves mostly went straight to four-year colleges, I was a community college marketing admin during the enrollment boom years of the early 2010s, and my marketing buys hit the masses because the college I worked for almost every other in the State Outperformed — The typical marketing administrator may have a hidden or unrecognized bias toward two-year college students. Short maybe you are stuck up.
The world of a person who went straight to four-year college is very technical. They see their kids on the latest devices and assume all kids are as fluent. So for them, the idea of a two-year online college makes sense.
And two-year colleges have overreacted to Covid – while four-year colleges have pushed to return to face-to-face classes, two-year colleges are stuck in Spring 2020. Many are still required to wear masks; Most classes are being moved online – still. Also for autumn 2022.
Permanent full-time lecturers are reluctant to return to the podium; They, too, usually went directly to four-year colleges. The adjuncts have less influence and therefore often have to be the ones who staff the face-to-face classes. I taught 13 credits at two different colleges as a supplement last semester; the demand was there.
Some studies indicate that a large number of students prefer online education, even at two-year colleges. But are these studies just confirmation bias? Are they driven by the technology and LMS companies that contract with these colleges?
(Then there is the question of how the online course will be conducted – synchronously via Zoom or asynchronously; similar to the old distance schools. Are many asynchronous lecturers mostly doing copy-paste?)
While it’s true that the majority of students only want online courses, there’s still a sizeable minority who don’t. I’m not sure any college can survive losing this sizeable minority.
And how do we know what an 18 year old is Yes, really want? Universities already rely too heavily on student evaluations from trainers. Perhaps the administrators should be the adults and make the decision that classes need to be in-person to encourage a sense of “community.”
I’ve been teaching online – the students essentially watch me on TV. Maybe they turn off their cameras so I can’t see them. They may be looking at social media on their phones under the camera. If you give a typical student an easier option, they will take it. The lecture portion of online classes is easier and not as effective for these students. You’re just too distracted and comfortable at home.
Do you remember a TV show better than a Broadway play? Usually not.
I was recently on campus where I used to be an administrator. It was a school day. The first entrance leads to a large lobby where dozens of students used to hang out, laugh, play cards and make plans. Many were left out. Some studied, some ate, some played video games as a group.
It was a community University.
Now this big room is empty. The parking lot used to be crowded; now it is nine tenths empty. People speak in hushed tones.
My daughter was teaching a year ago in a poor local K-12 school district, the kind of district that would eventually support a community college like the one I worked for. Apart from televisions, the children had no technology at home; the district tried to give them computers during the pandemic. That initiative has largely failed, and the anecdotal stories I’ve heard about it are heartbreaking.
It’s no time to be snooty. These are real students who need real people around them. You need a learning community.
Two-year colleges, still mostly virtual for the fall, are missing an opportunity to bring these students back.
Changing the name of a college isn’t just a branding exercise; Even with the name change, the original mission remains.
A two-year college can be a safe place – a place to come and learn – for the whole community. Not just those with the latest gadgets planning to transfer easy credits to a four-year college.
This human element made community colleges special and was a big reason they boomed in the early 2010s. and the lack of it is why they are now withering.
Darren Johnson edits Campus News, a student newspaper available at numerous colleges across the state. He is also an adjunct in journalism and marketing. He was a college marketer from 1999 to 2015 and known for growing enrollments. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.