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Community College Board Leader Sees Students Delaying Decisions Amid Coronavirus

Gregg Chadwick
Heartland Community College
Gregg Chadwick is the newly appointed president of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, and chair of the Heartland Community College board of trustees.

Despite an increase in summer enrollment, Heartland Community College in Normal anticipates low numbers for the fall semester.

“I think that Heartland like every other community college and every other four-year school in the state is doing the best they can in a situation that is not good,” said Gregg Chadwick, the newly appointed president of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, and chair of the Heartland Community College board of trustees.

The college is encouraging students not to take a gap year amidst the pandemic's uncertainty, arguing it causes students to fall behind and lose traction in their studies.

"Students are really holding back on making a final decision on what they want to do this fall."

“There's a lot of experience that shows that students that take time off during their college education have a more difficult time finishing their college degrees,” said Chadwick. “I think students are really holding back on making a final decision on what they want to do this fall.”

With cheaper classes and smaller class sizes than many four-year universities, community colleges say they can provide a more hands-on, personal experience for students. They claim the benefits that come along with attending community colleges are more valuable now than before, as universities face big changes for the upcoming school year.

“We know that frankly at the end of the day, community college students do as well or better than students who complete their entire career at a four-year school,” said Chadwick.

He said students at four-year universities are still paying for that full university experience, while with current online and hybrid adjustments, community colleges can provide the same educational experience.

“There’s also concern that those students aren’t going to get to experience the complete college experience that they were expecting, and in that case, community colleges offer a great alternative,” said Chadwick. “We can still teach classes, we can still provide support for students, and we can do it in a way that is less expensive for them, which is a big concern for those who aren’t going to be attending a four-year school but paying essentially a four-year tuition.”

He feels that incoming freshmen are in the best spot to go the community college route, even if it's just for their first year or two. Most colleges accept and carry over community college credits, and students would be able to more affordably complete their general education courses.

At Heartland, very few classes will be offered in person this fall. The instruction will be primarily online with a mix of hybrid classes. Students who are in technical or health programs that require being on campus to use equipment and facilities will be accommodated to provide a more hands-on experience.

“I don't think that in anyone's mind this would be the preferred way of instruction, but it is the best way that we have right now, and we're all hopeful that this is short-term,” said Chadwick. “There's a lot of concern that it may jump into the next semester and that's disappointing, but you know we have to respond to what's going on in the environment and the community.”

Chadwick said he has two big concerns for the fall, one being the impact that potential last-minute enrollments could have on staff and the financial aid and advising offices. This would cause staff to do work that was spread out last year over a 10-week period, in one or two weeks.

His second concern is the college being able to maintain the services and programs it provides for the community.

“Earning college credits is certainly an important one, but there are also credential programs, community education programs, and the transfer program,” said Chadwick. “We’re not able to offer the level of service to the community that we want to be able to and that we are committed to providing.”

This can cause them to lose ground helping people learn the skills they need, especially with the huge jump in unemployment and an increase in people being displaced at work.

“We are good at helping people that are in that situation, all community colleges are good at doing that, and it’s going to be a lot more difficult to help people move on to the next professional step in their lives,” said Chadwick.

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