Roxbury Community College Prepares For Funding Shortfalls; Possible Surge In Enrollment Amid Pandemic

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Roxbury Community College (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Roxbury Community College (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

For 15 community colleges in Massachusetts, there’s still no clear picture as to what the fall semester will look like.

The state-funded system serves 115,000 degree-seeking students around the state, many of whom rely on grants and other assistance to stay enrolled.

Dr. Valerie Roberson is president of Roxbury Community College. She joined WBUR's Morning Edition to discuss the transition to online classes for the school's 1,800 students and 200 faculty, potential funding shortfalls and what the upcoming summer and fall semesters.

Listen to the interview or read highlights from the conversation below.

Interview Highlights

On the largely successful transition to online learning

We had about 15 students that really were not able to make the adjustment and consequently had to drop out. Certainly we don't want to lose any students, but I was glad to see that there wasn't, you know, a massive withdrawal and people really feeling like they couldn't complete their academic goals.

On what the summer and fall semesters might look like

For the summer, we've basically decided that it's all going to be remote learning. In the fall, we are really waiting to get a bit more information. And what we're trying to do is to provide a predominance of hybrid classes where half the instruction takes place on campus and half is online, so the students are prepared going into it for any eventuality. ... So if we'd planned to have an on-campus session and a [COVID-19] wave hits, then they can just kind of continue online until it's safe to have a face-to-face class.

We are also making adjustments for our health care classes, which, you know, they have to have a level of practical skill involved. But we're pretty sure that we can space students out enough to provide small group instruction and still practice social distancing.

On Roberson's optimism in the face of potential funding shortfalls

Community colleges have been historically underfunded in Massachusetts and we've been challenged as far as finances are concerned. If ... the state appropriation is not the same level that we are accustomed to or enrollment drops, then we will be challenged. But we've been notorious for being able to do a lot with a little. So ... we believe that we can still balance our budget to the point that we'll be able to continue as an institution.

I have a spirit to believe that our mission is so critical to the state, especially when you start to consider economic recovery and the amount of training that community colleges provide in terms of job readiness, that we can be creative enough to find ways to serve students.

On the possibility that cost-friendly community colleges will see an enrollment surge in the fall

I am expecting that. ... We're preparing for that because, you know, students can pursue a two-year degree at RCC really without taking out any loans — especially if they qualify for high levels of financial aid. And we want to continue to let people know that this is a great option for families. If students can't go away to school, we're happy to, you know ... fill in the gap until they're able to go away, and all of our classes are transferable.

This segment aired on May 20, 2020.

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