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How Online-Learning Tools Can Keep Community Colleges Afloat

For businesses and workers alike, it is more pressing than ever that we save community colleges by using online tools to help their faculty and students thrive.

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As businesses of all sizes and sectors struggle to find skilled workers, community colleges have an important role to play in replenishing the labor pool. Unfortunately, community colleges across the country saw devastating drops in enrollment over the last two years as the number of students attending fell by half a million. At the same time, states and local governments have been forced to make significant budget cuts to these institutions, which find themselves strapped for cash amid ongoing pandemic-recovery efforts. For businesses and workers alike, it is more pressing than ever that we save these community colleges by finding new ways to help their faculty and students thrive.

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During fiscal year 2021, states slashed financial support for two-year colleges by $457 million while funding for four-year institutions fell by only $63 million, according to a recent study by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. These cuts, coupled with the sharp decline in student enrollment, have exacerbated a funding shortfall that plagued community colleges long before Covid-19 swept the globe. 

Related: Community Colleges and the Creation of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Community colleges lack critical resources 

Adjunct professors have been hit particularly hard. Even prior to state and local budget cuts, adjunct professors at community colleges typically earned between $20,000 and $25,000 per year, and nearly 25% relied on public assistance. Another 40% had trouble covering basic household expenses, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

On top of low pay, these professors are not afforded the same benefits as full-time faculty. Many aren’t compensated for the time they spend outside of the classroom helping their students succeed. Often, adjunct faculty members at community colleges are forced to hold office hours on their own time and without pay — a practice that disadvantages both teachers and students.

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But it’s not just adjunct faculty who are suffering. Community college professors across the board face funding limitations that professors at four-year institutions simply don’t have to contend with. Take remedial education, for example. Roughly 60% of community college students are required to take at least one remedial course to earn a degree, but many schools do not have the funds to adequately provide this basic skills education.

Additionally, community colleges lack many of the critical resources found at four-year colleges, including support staff, counselors, mental-health services, librarians and tutors.

Online tools can help bridge the gap

One way we can mitigate these strains is through online tools. Inexpensive and time-saving, online-learning platforms like Chegg and Khan Academy provide support not only to students, but also to professors with limited resources and time constraints. These tools can provide those attending community colleges with the guidance that students at adequately funded institutions receive through office hours and on-campus tutors. 

Unfortunately, there are some faculty and administrators who view these tools as a means for students to bypass traditional learning, rather than as sources for supplemental support. The reality is, most students use these platforms as a way to get help on their tougher subjects throughout the year when their professors are unable to provide extra assistance. Educators at community colleges are already stretched thin, and limiting tools that can help shift the load off their shoulders only makes their jobs more difficult. 

Related: Can the Next Wave of Young Entrepreneurs Even Afford to Attend College?

Unlike most traditional four-year professors, those teaching at community colleges serve a broad population of students with a wide range of academic levels and needs — and those students will be the future of our workforce. To make this task more difficult, many of these two-year institutions are woefully underfunded, leaving community colleges with limited resources to help their students succeed. Online tools can be a game-changer for our nation’s two-year colleges, and I’m hopeful their use will become more common among both students and faculty, which will help businesses get the workers they need to grow and thrive.

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