While many community colleges were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollments are seeing another uptick partly due to an embracing of synchronous online learning technologies. The National Clearinghouse identified a 14.4 percent drop in overall community college enrollment from Fall 2019 to Fall 2021; however, Higher Ed Dive notes that overall community college enrollment actually grew 2.1 percent from Spring 2022 to Spring 2023.
Online classroom platforms growing in demand
As community colleges continue to navigate their way in this new industry landscape, institutions are leveraging virtual classroom platforms to expand the reach of their campus to new demographics. This comes at a crucial time where students are demanding the flexibility synchronous online learning provides.
Sara Weissman notes in an article for Inside Higher Ed, “As more courses are offered online, community college students are also no longer place-bound or limited to taking courses at the campus closest to where they live. This has created a more competitive dynamic for community colleges.”
Virtual classrooms expand community colleges’ reach
This trend is only further expanding the demand for online classrooms. Douglas Mark points out in an article for Online Education that “in the Los Angeles Community College District’s nine campuses, almost 60 percent of all classes are at least partially remote, with half fully remote and an additional seven percent are hybrid. Only 43 percent are taught in person.”
As institutions can serve a broader population, no longer limited by geographic or time restraints, more students—especially nontraditional learners—can take advantage of offerings. Community college has been an important resource for under-served demographics in the United States. In fact, the American Association of Community Colleges denotes a number of important statistics identifying populations which benefit from community colleges:
- 59 percent are women
- 55 percent are non-white
- 30 percent are first-generation college students
- 66 percent attend part-time
- 38 percent of all U.S. undergraduates have attended community college
Virtual classroom platforms can utilize even more technology
While previous generations of online classroom platforms were clunky, difficult to navigate, and required a larger technical investment, new advancements allow students to engage with their synchronous online learning modules through smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more.
Plus, according to a 2021 New America study, 91 percent of community college students report having “excellent” or “good” internet quality at home. This, in addition to the prevalence of free Wi-Fi locations in quiet places suitable for learning, means virtual classrooms are a reliable avenue for even more students than ever before.
Many non-traditional community college students also benefit from the asynchronous ability that many institutions employ with their virtual classroom courses. From jobs to parenting responsibilities, many community college students don’t have the same availability for traditional in-person classroom schedules, and online classrooms are an excellent means by which these individuals can continue their educations.
Synchronous education builds connection
Although many institutions relied on temporary or emergency fixes to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, utilizing web conferencing tools and other not-so-perfect tools, the reality is that intentionally designed, top-of-class virtual classroom platforms offer robust tools to deliver next-level engagement with analytical insights unmatched by in-person classrooms.
Gone are the days where online learning was a passive endeavor with one instructor broadcasting out to a listen-only audience. Now, with new technology, instructors can empower learners to actively take part in their education.
- Breakout rooms which can be centrally managed by educators, offer immersive, connection-building opportunities for students to engage with one another while tackling unique-to-their-group assignments.
- Proctoring view allows instructors to see both the student’s camera and screen at the same time, allowing for real-time feedback on assignments and also discouraging cheating.
- Direct access to an institution’s LMS means educators can launch a quiz directly from the system, learners can take the quiz in real-time, and results can be automatically delivered to the instructor’s gradebook.
- Deep analytics can allow instructors to experience next-level insights, including talk-time bars showing participation levels for each student in real-time, number of hands raised, number of questions asked, and other valuable metrics that can’t be properly tracked in a physical classroom setting.
Synchronous online learning continues to open doors
Community colleges have long existed as a foundational piece of continued education in the United States. The commitment to serving under-represented populations also makes it an invaluable resource within society. By leveraging the new capabilities of virtual online platforms, community colleges are continuing to expand their availability to even more populations across the country.
Looking for a more digestible version of this article? Check out our “Reinventing Community College with Online Synchronous Learning” infographic now!