Page 22 - BusinessWest December 7, 2020
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 the world going to look like, and how do we even navigate this?’”
With many schools forced to offer only remote learning, Salomon-Fernández noted, there was some speculation that students, perhaps with some prodding from their parents, might opt to learn remotely at a community college rather than a far more expensive four-year institution of higher learning. But thus far, such a movement has not materialized, she said, adding that some students are opting out altogether and taking
“We’re trying to understand and anticipate how the job market will change. We expect some jobs to be gone and not come back,
and as a community college, we’re preparing ourselves to support the most vulnerable people whose jobs will cease to exist.”
at least a semester or year off rather than enroll remotely at any institution.
What is materializing is a situation where those in the minority communities and the lower end of the income scale — frontline workers, in many instances — are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. And this is the con-
stituency that fills many of the seats — another term that takes on new meaning during the pan- demic — at this region’s community colleges.
“If you look at Holyoke, Springfield, Chicopee, and Westfield — those are our top feeder commu- nities,” Royal said. “These are the communities that are getting impacted by the pandemic in a significant way; we know the pandemic is dispro- portionately impacting communities of color and low-income communities.”
She and the others we spoke with said the pandemic is putting many people out of work or reducing their hours, affecting everything from housing to food insecurity. Meanwhile, for others, the pandemic has them in a situation where bal- ancing work and life has become more challeng- ing and complicated, leaving fewer hours in the day and less time and opportunity for things like attaining the associate degree that might open some doors career-wise.
“There are so many uncertainties right now that have many people saying, ‘I don’t know if I can handle another thing right now — so I’m just going to wait and see if we can stabilize some of these other factors, especially some consistency with K-12 education and a better understanding of where the jobs are and who’s hiring,’” Royal said.
Cook concurred. “A lot of what we see in our enrollment decline is students not going any- where — they’re sitting on the sidelines,” he said. “They’re not seeking another option because, frankly, we’re the most affordable and most acces- sible option in Springfield. They’re literally staying home — taking care of children who are simi- larly home, or taking care of family members, or addressing working concerns. That’s what we see,
John Cook says the pandemic has disproportionately impacted urban areas and communities of color — constituencies served by community colleges.
and that’s part of the larger story around racial concerns, equity, and structural racism, and this is how it lands at a place like STCC.
“As much as we try to encourage them to stick with their plan and
         help them, through myriad services, to
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