Essay: Community College Students Hit Hard by Pandemic

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Colleges continued to offer online coursework this spring amid the coronavirus pandemic, but one educator says the “new normal” unfairly disadvantaged her students at MiraCosta College.

The two-year school is part of the California Community College District, and sociology instructor Kat Soto-Gomez said shifting learning online – particularly during a time of economic turmoil – hastened student attrition.

Her Ed Surge essay highlights the challenges low-income students face during the coronavirus pandemic. As one student told her after falling behind on his coursework: “I didn’t realize I would be deemed an ‘essential worker’ working at The Home Depot.”

“If students weren’t filling their new schedules with work that put them at higher risks to contract the virus, they were managing household chores and babysitting duties for their family members on the front lines,” Soto-Gomez wrote. “I lost students throughout the semester as they became more disengaged with each passing week due to the heaviness of a pandemic and all the hardships it had placed on them and their families.”

According to data from the Association for Community Colleges, 64 percent of students at two-year schools attend part-time and many work outside of class. In addition, nearly a third of community college students are the first in their families to attend college and 15 percent are single parents.

When learning shifted online, work and family obligations quickly ate into the hours many community college students had previously reserved to attend class and study, said Soto-Gomez.

“The reality is there were not enough hours in the day,” she wrote.

Read Soto-Gomez’s full essay on Ed Surge and read more about the pandemic’s effects on higher education.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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