The return to the idea of normality has divided people into those who prefer the “before” and the “now”. It is becoming evident in the workforce that people are looking for remote or hybrid forms of employment as employees return to the office, and with rising gas prices weighing on commuters, alternatives to the “standard” are more necessary than ever.
When it comes to higher education, especially at the community college level, students are eager to learn skills they are passionate about. However, they want to do it their own way.
“I don’t see our students going back to the one-size-fits-all approach they were used to at our colleges,” California Community College (CCC) Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley told EdSource.
So much has changed in the past two years that it is not possible to expect people to fall back to what worked before. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, priorities and routines have changed for many people.
So why does it feel like students have been encouraged to consider the unique option of in-person learning as the only option?
Currently, Orange Coast College offers 337 online courses, 193 blended courses, and 580 lecture and discussion (in-person) courses. While these are better than OCC’s tiny pre-pandemic offerings of 91 online courses and 50 hybrid courses compared to the 1,297 in-person courses offered in fall 2019, they need to improve. For every in-person course offered, an online or hybrid option should also be available.
Going back to what worked before means intentionally leaving behind students who have thrived on online learning during the pandemic. Colleges may encourage students to return to on-campus classrooms, but the pandemic has revealed that there are other ways to learn that are more convenient and accessible for students.
That’s why Coast Report’s editorial board believes that the OCC should offer permanent online courses for every major, degree, and certificate it offers.
Some students enjoy in-person learning because they can interact with instructors face-to-face and easily collaborate with other students. Since the shift to remote learning at the start of the pandemic was sudden and rapid, instructors who had never taught online before struggled with the new platforms. Retaining course information that benefits from more hands-on learning has become a challenge for students.
In a survey conducted by Digital Promise and Langer Research Associates in 2020, 42% of 1,008 undergraduate students said staying motivated was a top issue for them with online courses.
On the other hand, in a survey conducted in October 2021, the CCC Chancellor’s Office asked 400 prospective students about their preferred method of learning. More than half preferred some form of hybrid education, 27% preferred all online and 18% preferred all in person. The reason given by students from all racial demographics who preferred blended and online learning was the flexibility it offered.
Blended and online learning also minimizes the scheduling conflicts that students encounter between their work and their classes. In the same study by Digital Promise and Langer Research Associates, 68% of students had no problem balancing online classes and work schedules. Since more than 40% of students in the California Community College system are working adults age 25 or older, this is beneficial not only for them, but also for students who care for children, have disabilities mental and physical and have mental health problems.
The pandemic has undoubtedly affected community college enrollment rates and much of that cannot be mitigated by colleges. For example, CalMatters attributes the decline to labor shortages and employers hiring people above minimum wage for jobs that don’t typically require a college education.
However, more opportunities to learn from home could positively impact enrollment numbers and help students complete their studies successfully and in a timely manner.
The Student Senate of Community Colleges of California (SSCCC) passed a statewide resolution in 2020 that urges districts across the state to expand online offerings. Citing the educational barriers created by traditional formats and course schedules, the SSCCC requested that for each general education or degree requirement, at least one course be offered in an online format.
OCC is considered one of the best transfer community colleges in the state. As of the 2019 course catalog, the college offers 68 majors, 100 degrees, and 150 certificates. The OCC employs professors who are successful and well known in their fields. Distance learning courses should be an option for students to learn from some of the best in their respective majors.
It has been established that distance learning is not for everyone, however, it should be an option for students who wish to complete and earn the degree of their choice. Online courses allow students to choose what best suits their needs. The importance, quality and access to education should not revert to this complex idea of ’normal’. It must continue to evolve, as education should.
The Coast Report Editorial Board is made up of the Editor-in-Chief and Section Editors. A member of the editorial board writes the editorial and it rotates throughout the semester.
Editorial topics are pitched by all board members and only one topic is selected for each editorial. Each member of the editorial board votes on their position on the chosen subject and the majority position becomes that of the editorial staff. In the event of a tie in the first vote, the members of the editorial board continue the discussion and explain the reasons for their first vote. A second vote is then taken and the majority position becomes that of the editorial staff. In the event of a second tie vote, the editorial position will be decided at the discretion of the Editor-in-Chief.