As I complete my second year as Chancellor and our 13 Colleges get ready to start the fall term amid the coronavirus pandemic, I want to convey my continued admiration and appreciation to all the students, faculty, and staff of the Colorado Community College System.
Education defines who we are and what we do, and no crisis will change that.
Our students have demonstrated their resilience and their commitment to their educational ambitions by persevering in their coursework despite the sudden and unprecedented shift in instructional delivery. Similarly, our faculty, staff, and administrators have continued to deliver on our mission of serving all Coloradans who seek access to affordable, high quality, academic and CTE instruction, and who hope to improve their lives and serve their communities.
Last spring, when COVID-19 brought much of our country to a standstill, our colleges and people kept going – teaching and supporting successful outcomes for all students. Our students put their heads down, forged ahead, and completed their courses. Many finished their programs of study, graduated, and participated in creative but regrettably virtual celebrations. Our instructors adapted to the sudden move to remote instruction admirably, training themselves and supporting the professional development of their colleagues so that instruction continued without interruption. Their hard work paid off, as demonstrated by student outcomes that were consistent with prior semesters.
Innovation is where we turn when circumstances demand it, and that has never been more important than this moment. Throughout the summer term, our colleges continued to innovate and to develop and deploy agile, responsive, and student centric plans to deliver courses in a variety of new teaching formats including online, remote, hybrid, and face-to-face. We made adjustments depending on the type of course, the guidance received from state/local public health authorities, and the individual circumstances of the college and their respective communities. Across our system, we have seen enterprising students and faculty use their skills to address shortages of critical healthcare equipment and supplies, dedicated staff securing emergency grants and other resources to help students with food, housing, and technology needs, and essential employees working day in and day out on our campuses, often taking on new and unfamiliar duties to help. We have adapted quickly to remote work and the use of technology to insure that we can continue to be productive and efficient, regardless of where we are when we log into our computers each morning.
Economic Recovery. Our colleges are the key to our state’s and our nation’s economic recovery. We serve the fastest growing student populations, including those with limited economic resources, many different ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, refugees, veterans, working parents, first generation students, and others who may not be well served in more traditional and more expensive four-year institutions. Today, these vulnerable populations are taking the hardest hits during this pandemic, both medically and economically. In fact, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the economic and other disparities in our country that are directly linked to race, education levels, and economic status. As our economy relies more and more on those with higher education and skills training, we are the colleges that will equip our students for success in the future, but we can only do so if we continue to focus on equity in access and outcomes, and on helping all of our students achieve their goals. During the last decade in which we clawed our way out of the Great Recession, individuals with college certificates or degrees filled virtually all of the millions of new jobs created. Left behind were those whose ambitions ended with the completion of a high school diploma.
Now is not the time for our students to pause in their pursuit of an education, nor is the time for us to stop advocating for our students or our colleges.
College matters, and “college” includes programs of study that may take only one or two years to complete but lead to high wages in high demand jobs in many of our state’s key industries. Our short-term certificates, associate degrees, and our apprenticeship-based programs lead to careers in fields as diverse as healthcare, law enforcement, firefighting, education, construction and skilled trades, transportation, agriculture, and too many others to list here. Of course, many students are interested in more traditional four-year degree programs like our BSN in Nursing, or they may choose to pursue a four year degree at a university, for which we established the Bridge to the Bachelor’s Degree Program which leads not just to transferability of courses but also guaranteed admission to a partner university. Employers know the value of the well-educated employee, and they know our colleges and our programs will prepare and re-skill workers that will be needed for the recovery.
Affordability. The pandemic is creating tremendous financial challenges everywhere, and although I am concerned about the financial stability of our colleges, I am even more concerned about our students. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted us to survey and assess the specific reasons why students may choose not to enroll for the fall 2020 semester. The most common reason given for not registering for the fall semester were concerns about how to pay for college. Hispanic respondents expressed more concern about paying for college than other demographic groups but others shared that concern. Of those who indicated paying for college as a concern, more than half thought they would not qualify for financial aid.
We are working hard to let all Coloradans know that our community colleges are affordable and that financial assistance is available.
With annual tuition and fees of approximately $5,000, about 40% of average university tuition, many of our students graduate with little to no debt. In addition, our colleges do not charge application fees for admission and many courses use free Open Educational Resources, so there are no textbook costs. It is an absolute imperative that right now everyone help us communicate this message, especially to low-income students, that with the assistance of student financial aid and free OER your local college is affordable and now is the right time to get started.
Safety. As Chancellor of the Colorado Community College System, I take great pride in the work we do every day to serve our students and our communities. Along with that sense of pride, which I know all of you share, I have a great sense of responsibility to our students and to our faculty, staff, and administrators. We face an unprecedented health crisis that we cannot ignore.
We must keep as our highest priority the health and safety of our students, our employees and our communities.
And that means we must be guided by our local and state health authorities, even if it makes our jobs more difficult. We will take precautions and we will continue to adapt to the changing circumstances and the evolving medical guidelines, advice, and directives. I urge all of you to help protect each other by joining me in following that advice, even as we all long for a return to “normalcy”. Until that day comes, we will continue to face challenges, but we will also have the opportunity to be there for every one of our students – to teach them, to support them, to encourage them, and to model responsible behavior and care for others – and to assure them of their bright futures ahead.
I am proud to stand alongside every member of our CCCS community as we carry on our mission.
I know how difficult these past months have been on all of you — personally and professionally. We are facing the most difficult societal challenges of our lifetime, and the biggest challenge ever to face higher education. But thanks to your passion, dedication and steadfast commitment to our students and mission, it will be a great — albeit very different — fall term for all of us.
Here’s to a great start for a new, successful academic year!