Community colleges focus on student education, care, and community outreach
Iowa’s 15 community colleges are never idle, even during a pandemic. And addressing students’ needs is front and center, beginning with how to enable students to continue with their education.
“Iowa’s Community Colleges adaptability skills have served them well for the challenges of the unexpected and dangerous COVID-19 pandemic,” said MJ Dolan, executive director of Iowa Association of Community College Trustees (IACCT). “Within days, plans were in progress to modify the delivery of course work to allow students who could no longer be on campus to safely and confidently complete the semester.”
Many community college courses have been moved from face-to-face delivery to an online experience. Online classes and services are being provided through virtual delivery systems, so each community college has had to find ways to assist those students (credit, non-credit and high school students enrolled in dual credit classes) who lack technological resources to access online classes. That means community colleges have had to provide laptops, hot spots, software and related hardware.
For students who do not have reliable internet access, instructors have developed academic packets for students to use to complete coursework. For example, each week students can receive hard copy materials and worksheets through the mail. Students then text a photo of the completed work to their teacher, which allows the teacher to monitor student progress, identify areas of struggle, and tailor further teaching accordingly. Despite the challenges inherent in the lack of face-to-face interactions, analysis, teaching and learning can still continue with this innovative means of communication.
Career and Technical classes, which frequently require mastery of hands-on competencies, have employed on-site social distancing and reduced class sizes of 10 or less in a group. Small group labs are also being held to supplement online instruction in courses pertaining to areas such as Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and Electrical.
And, in an effort to be extra vigilant about reaching out and meeting the needs of the whole student, help lines, care calls, and virtual visits with staff are standard protocol.
Care calls are made to students throughout the state to determine how well students have adjusted to online courses, what additional services students need to successfully complete online courses, and what assistance students and their families need to weather the ripple effects of the pandemic.
Help lines, run by trained staff, have been established for students and families to receive guidance pertaining to area services such as food pantries, hot meals, and mental health services.
Virtual visits with campus staff via Zoom appointments help individuals explore educational opportunities, complete admission applications, complete federal student aid applications, and register for classes.
In addition to placing top priority on the education and care of its students, each community college has also mobilized its resources to provide services to communities and local economies.
“As the economic engines for their regions, Iowa’s Community Colleges have helped, not only students, but their local businesses and communities to safely cope with and plan for economic recovery following the pandemic,” Dolan said.
Help lines are up and running to assist nonprofits and small business owners navigate the state, federal and local assistance applications. Help lines are also staffed with trained counselors to aid in providing referrals for mental health assistance and counseling services, and guidance regarding food pantry and school lunch locations. College food service operations have donated food to area hospitals, care centers, food pantries, and school districts for hot lunch pickup programs.
While completing the academic year, staff and students have also volunteered their time and talents to serve front line workers. Thousands of faculty, staff and students have responded to the pandemic by producing and distributing over 20,000 items (and counting) of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including gowns, masks, face shields, and surgical caps. One college made sure that every citizen in the counties it serves has a protective mask.
In addition to donating PPE to emergency management agencies and medical organizations, community colleges have utilized 3-D printers to produce facemask shields for first responders and the U.S. postal service, and have produced facemask straps and ball cap clips to hold cloth facemasks in place.
Campus spaces have been creatively converted to accommodate and support a variety of new, health-care related needs, such as opening residence halls to medical staff who work with COVID-19 patients, which provides staff with a place to stay and prevents exposing their families to the virus. Residence halls are also set up to serve as surge sites for hospitalized, non-COVID-19 patients, and one recreational facility now serves as a physical and speech therapy rehabilitation services center for stroke and cardiac patients.
As Iowa has expanded its COVID-19 testing sites, Western Iowa Community College (WITCC) in Sioux City and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids have been tapped to serve in that capacity. Some community colleges stand ready to serve as backup locations in the event local utility companies need to separate their staff and equipment.
Although a pandemic has paid a significant and unexpected visit to the lives of Iowa’s students, Iowa’s community colleges continue to find innovative ways to advance their educational mission and to positively impact the lives of their students and communities they serve.
Visit the IACCT website to read more about how community colleges are helping students and communities.