Community College Operations and COVID-19

Community colleges are known for being nimble and responsive to community needs. Here are some ways that community colleges statewide and at district and local levels are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the world has been affected by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Community colleges are in a unique position and face unique challenges as resource providers to their local communities and providers of high-quality higher education.

ACCT has reached out to member colleges to find out how they are responding to these events—what challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve coped, and what lessons are being learned. This is part of a series of topical articles that addresses these concerns, as specific to community colleges and their boards. This article series will be updated in real time as we learn more about how our nation’s most nimble educational institutions are adapting in real time.

This article focuses on college operations.

District-level Operations

No cases of Covid-19 have yet been reported among the communities of the 100,000-student Alamo Colleges District in Texas. Still, leaders have taken proactive measures to protect the community that include:

  • Extending spring break by a week.
  • Slowly, systematically bringing staff back in; for example, staggering staff schedules to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, per CDC guidance.
  • Staying in touch with the governor and communicating state mandates.
  • Collaborating in partnership with area high school districts and other colleges.
  • Planning contingencies: May have to cancel celebratory events like graduation, proms, etc. and to meet the state and federal guidances on events with a number of people (number may vary in counties, states.)

Alamo Colleges District Trustee Roberto Zárate indicates that more work will have to be done. “Basically, we are waiting to see how this all rolls out. The crisis is not over, and it’s growing.” Alamo board members will be meeting this week to provide more guidance and support to the chancellor and the five Alamo colleges being impacted by the pandemic. 

State-level Operations

Washington Association of College Trustees (ACT) Director Kim Tanaka talked about complying with Governor Jay Inslee’s very recent proclamation to deal with a very different reality—one of active contagion—throughout Washington. According to Tanaka, “Restaurants are open to allow takeout, and many are offering free delivery.  Nail and hair salons, restaurants, recreational facilities, etc. closed as of midnight on March 16th.  Colleges are offering online instruction to students and are exploring options for hands-on labs and clinics. We are getting a handle on it,” she said. “This can be overwhelming to higher education.”

Tanaka’s state association, ACT, is also working with the 34 college presidents. While the colleges operate independently, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges is working collaboratively with them. Every weekday morning, the presidents have a conference call to discuss emerging issues, including:

  • How to handle the tenure process
  • How to deal with those courses that require labs, particularly the technical colleges that require a great deal of hands-on experiences
  • How to get groups to practice social distancing guidelines
  • How to provide equity to students who need more resources
  • How to manage food panties
  • How faculty is helping with online or distance learning solutions

ACT was planning to hold a conference in mid-May at Edmonds Community College but has since postponed the in-person meeting. Right now, the association is determining ways that will allow ACT to conduct portions of the conference via distance communications—membership dues, elections of officers. How and when the conference will be held will become a later decision based on the abundance of concern for people’s health and welfare. 

Local College Operations

At one Washington college, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, President Amy Morrison sent out a message indicating that with the exceptions of a few on-campus core personnel, access to the campus is extremely limited. No one is allowed on campus without the express permission of their supervisor and executive cabinet representative.

Morrison notes, “As we wrap up winter quarter, there are a small number of students and faculty in our Prof-Tech programs who need to be in labs to meet the requirements for their programs. They are doing so in small groups, under 10 people, using social distancing protocols outlined by the Governor, and disinfecting on the way in and way out of the labs, with access only to their lab environment, and the nearest restrooms.”

Instead of working from the Emergency Operations Center in Kirkland with Leslie Shattuck, she explains that “now is the time for me and Leslie to transition to teleworking from home, so we are modeling the behavior the Governor is asking of Washingtonians. …The health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff is our number one priority.”  Remote operations will continue until the end of April and during this time faculty and staff are teleworking, engaged in professional development, and/or taking leave. 

Across the country, in New Jersey, County College of Morris President Anthony Iacono had sessions with all members of the cabinet to review what was necessary day-to-day. The board was kept informed on a daily basis. Having practice drills campus-wide for emergency situations in the past helped a great deal to have the services work properly. 

The New Jersey Presidents' Council had regular meetings with the administrators. According to County Council of Morris Vice Chair Jeff Advokat, “One point that was evident was that the administration continued to manage as it should in such a crisis. The board was available whenever necessary if and when policies needed attention. However, the board allowed the administration to meet its own responsibility, as it should, he emphasized.”

Iacono reports, “We chose to prepare for this crisis, loaning laptops to students and working closely with county social services.  The situation is not normal, and we are trying to make this as normal as possible for students.  If there’s a “silver lining,” to the pandemic, Iacono cites how people have rallied together “unselfishly and unhesitatingly “

Actions that have been taken include:

  • The campus has been closed and is deep cleaned, and all students abroad are returned. 
  • All possible classes, etc. are handled online so the students do not lose time and credits. 
  • For as long as possible, the library and the computer labs were held open; however, so many four- year students were using these facilities that a new policy had to be instituted to be sure to give CCM students priority. 
  • Before the governor’s lockdown, all sports seasons ended, as well as all College and community functions to put students’ and coaches’ health and well being first. 

ACCT members are encouraged to contact ACCT with information about what your college is doing to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lessons you have learned.

ACCT will continually update and expand resources as this unprecedented event evolves.

About ACCT Now

Community College Insights & Perspectives

ACCT Now is the go-to resource for issues affecting community colleges. In addition to reporting and research, you’ll have access to of-the-moment legislative updates. We’ve also included articles, reports, and research from outside sources that benefit the ACCT community.

Washington D.C. skyline