Valencia College, Seminole State see bump in enrollment during pandemic

Jul 09, 2020 by Laura Category: In the News 0 comments
By   – Staff Writer, Orlando Business Journal
Central Florida’s community colleges are seeing an enrollment bump during the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, as Valencia College prepared to bring most of its fall classes online, it saw an increase in its summer headcount by 11% year-over-year, and course hours taken rose by 18% during that time.

The college also anticipates it will see enrollment growth in the fall, much like it has with other economic recessions, Valencia College Provost Kathleen Plinske told Orlando Business Journal.

Those increases come as 58% of Floridians surveyed said they have suffered job losses, reduced work hours or pay cuts due to the pandemic, and 35% said they would need more education to find a job with the same pay, according to Florida College Access Network. That’s creating an opportunity for community colleges to increase participation in workforce training.

Valencia is not alone in seeing the enrollment uptick. Seminole State College of Florida saw its summer enrollment go up 6% compared to last year, and it anticipates its fall enrollment will grow by 5%, said Laura Ross, vice president of academic affairs.

Seminole State expects to move about 70% of its classes online for the fall, saving in-person instruction for classes where it is needed like clinical courses and other hands-on programs. The move of more classes online also could benefit certain students, Ross said.

“It supports students who need more schedule flexibility while working and managing their personal lives and families, and it supports students who want to learn and work from home. It also supports students with risk factors who want to minimize their exposure to public and group settings, all while ensuring a thorough, comprehensive and high-quality educational experience,” Ross said.

Colleges had to make that change on the fly, which brought on the need to talk with students on how to approach the fall.

The week after spring break in March, while moving more than 4,000 classes online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Valencia College surveyed students who had a class transition to fully online. The results came back with one response showing up again and again: Students were worried about losing that personal touch they get in the in-classroom experience.

That triggered what Plinske refers to as the “calling campaign,” which included several hundred college employees making 36,000 calls to connect with students. “The point of that phone call was not only to make a personal connection so the student had a human being to speak with, but also to understand the challenges they are facing so we either can help them or direct them to community resources,” she said..

Those discussions also have helped Valencia tailor its approach for the fall semester, while also allowing it to see where needs are. For example, Valencia could play a strong role in the economy where there is need for skilled workers, thanks to its short-term training certificate programs, Plinske said.

Meanwhile, both Valencia and Seminole State College have continued to invest in online learning training for staff, as well as the infrastructure needed to accomplish that, which helped both with the transition and future opportunities for remote learning.

At Seminole State, that investment involved costs to continue moving software online: a limited contract with Zoom prior to March 2020 for $7,500, which it updated to pro licenses for an additional $13,531 for for the rest of the calendar year for a total of $21,031. The college also saw increases with its remote proctoring systems compared to the prior year. The cost of Respondus Monitor went from zero in 2019-20 to $3,950 in 2020-21, while Proctorio increased $10,000 for a total cost of $42,000 for the 2020-21 year. Also, for its video storage program, Panopto, it saw a $10,000 increase over 2019-20 for a total cost of $80,719 for 2020-21.

Said Ross: “Seminole State is well-positioned to compete with online colleges, as Seminole State already offers more than 30 degree programs fully online, is accredited to offer online courses and programs, and has steadily expanded its online courses and programs over the past 10 years.”


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