Klamath Community College Defies Gloomy National Enrollment Trends

This article was in the August 10th, 2021 Herald and News 
Written By: Rick Childress, Herald and News

Across the country, COVID-related enrollment decreases have largely hit community colleges the worst.

Preliminary enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed a 9.5 percent decrease in community college enrollment nationwide during this past spring semester, while public four-year institutions showed only a 0.6 percent decrease.

However, Klamath Community College has been able to avoid that gloomy trend — sporting a 1.5 percent boost in enrollment over the course of the 2020-2021 school year. During the previous school year, KCC enrolled nearly 6,000 students, data from the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission showed.

School officials credited the increase to the college’s culture and ability to meet students “where they’re at.”

“Our size allows us to be very nimble,” said Bill Jennings, who was the interim vice president of student affairs through July. “We rarely do the same thing over and over again. We anticipate change, we are ready, we do a lot of change. So when change happens, we’re really not that resistant to it.”

Change has been rampant across every level of education during the pandemic. For community college students — who on average are older and therefore have more outside responsibilities — unexpected change can at times prove more disruptive. Meeting students “where they’re at” doesn’t necessarily mean the college is trying to fix in-class needs, but rather trying to help students with their daily basic needs.

When K-12 schools fluctuated between being in-person and online and childcare options dwindled, KCC students who were also parents had to meet the challenge of learning of online education alongside their own children.

“Not only does it affect our students, it affects our staff, anyone who has childcare, and kids who can’t be left at home, it definitely affects that group,” Jennings said. “And I think there was a little bit of a delayed response from some of our students, as far as when we did have some face to face classes, they remained online, because they were unsure themselves.”

Demand for KCC’s on-campus food pantry increased during the pandemic. The pantry offers anyone with a valid college ID the opportunity to request a package of food and hygiene products, said Reynaldo Ortega, a KCC student and student life mentor of communications and networking.

“You can just go online and it has everything on there like any hygiene or food products,” said Ortega, who helps to prepare the food packages. The online request form can be found at www.klamathcc.edu/en-US/Students/Food-Pantry.

Students requesting food can order an individual food bag, a vegetarian bag, hygiene bag or a family bag. The pantry averages about 40 food bags a month with the family bag being the most popular, said Heather Millsap, the college’s student life coordinator.

“It’s not income driven,” Millsap said. “There’s no questions about anything like that.”

Some gently used children’s toys are also available in the pantry and some food products nearing their expiration date are placed on a more public “free table” so that food is more easily available to passersby, Millsap said.

“As much as we’ve seen an increase in need, we’ve also seen an increase in giving..,” Jennings said, noting that the college had one its largest food drives in its history as well as a successful Giving Tree program around the holidays. “We had a gift for 120 of our students’ children.”

Last year, reliable access to the internet and a computer was often “the difference between being a student and not,” Jennings said. KCC had the capacity to provide technology and equipment for internet access to students who were in need, he said.

“It’s not even about whether you’re successful or not, if I don’t have the technology to do it, it’s a very, very difficult thing to be a student when you’re in an online environment,” Jennings said. “If you have to go drive to McDonald’s to get your internet connection, you’re not successful. It doesn’t work.”

This coming fall, KCC’s class offerings will look a little more like 2019 than 2020 — more in-person and less online, Jennings said.

However, lessons learned during a severely pandemic-impacted school year will carry into the future, he said.

“We’re very much connected with our students who physically cannot get to campus, as that has improved dramatically,” Jennings said.

Barring any future pandemic-related changes, students can expect to return to a more open campus in the fall. The college’s Wellness Center is back open and the library and tutoring center will return to full hours, Jennings said.

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