Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is one of four North Carolina community colleges being held up as models for how they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and kept students enrolled in classes.
The four were the only community colleges in the state that did not see significant drops in enrollment as colleges shifted to online-only or hybrid models of teaching. Overall, enrollment in the state’s community colleges dropped 11% from the fall 2019 semester to the fall 2020 semester.
An article for Education NC, an education advocacy group, reports that several common themes in the efforts of the four colleges — the others are Isothermal Community College in Rutherford County, Davidson-Davie Community College, and James Sprunt Community College in Duplin County — may have helped students stay in school:
• Students and faculty alike don’t like online classes. CCC&TI President Mark Poarch told EducationNC that the college conducted focus groups and student surveys and found a clear preference for in-person classes, so the college tried to get back to that as soon as it could be done.
• Greater efforts to communicate with students. Edward Terry, CCC&TI’s executive director of community relations, is quoted in the article about the college using multiple channels — email, the college’s website, social media sites — to deliver the same information in as many places as possible to be sure it’s seen.
• Making support services more easily available when students can’t come to campus. For instance, CCC&TI began offering students the ability to sign financial aid documents online.
• And a little bit of luck. CCC&TI was lucky in a couple of ways: In 2019 it had created the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, a support system for professional development, which aided faculty members in the shift to online teaching; and before the pandemic struck the college had undertaken some recent technology initiatives that would prove key, including the distribution of 125 Chromebooks to students and working with Google to enable some classes to be taught via videoconference.