Amid enrollment dip, CGCC shifts to more online classes - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Amid enrollment dip, CGCC shifts to more online classes

June 25th, 2020 development
Amid enrollment dip, CGCC shifts to more online classes

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

In an unprecedented move to limit the risk of students contracting the coronavirus, the majority of Chandler-Gilbert Community College’s classes will be taught online in the upcoming fall semester.

At least 55 percent of the college’s class sections will be offered exclusively online when the next semester starts on Aug. 24, according to CGCC Vice President of Academic Affairs William Guerriero.

“That’s way more online than we’ve done in the typical fall semester,” Guerriero said.

Colleges across Arizona have spent the summer shifting an increasing number of courses to digital formats even as the enrollment numbers for some remain in flux.

As of this month, Guerriero said Chandler-Gilbert’s enrollment was nearly 22 percent lower than it was the same time last year.

“We are not seeing the same volume of students contacting us and completing the enrollment process for fall,” he said.

Despite these bleak projections, Guerriero said the college is attempting to not eliminate any courses or programs in the coming year.

The focus is currently on making adjustments to the existing course catalog, the vice president said, and retooling curriculum to fit with a digital format.

Another 20 percent of the college’s hundreds of classes could be taught in a “hybrid” model – a mixture of both online and in-person instruction.

About 13 percent of classes are expected to be taught live by instructors through a webcam that will stream lectures online in real time.

Guerriero said this “live” format is a fairly new innovation for the college and came about after several instructors came to administration seeking new ways to connect with their students.

Some of the college’s math teachers were worried about students getting lost in complex calculations if an instructor wasn’t there in person to guide them along, Guerriero said.

“Some of them are looking for an experience where there’s more of a synchronous feel,” he said.

But there will still be some courses that probably cannot be taught online, Guerriero added, and the college is coming up with ways to still offer an educational experience that will be safe and effective.

The college’s choir and band classes could be scaled down to a lower size, he said, since it wouldn’t be safe to have 60 students assembled together in a small rehearsal room.

The college’s campuses in Chandler and east Mesa are known for their popular degree programs in aviation technology – a program that’s heavily regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and requires a certain amount of hands-on instruction.

It would be quite difficult to teach aviation maintenance online, Guerriero said, so the college is cautiously scheduling these programs to still be taught in person and with a certain amount of safety measures in place to protect the students.

Not long after the COVID-19 virus began proliferating around Arizona in March, the Maricopa Community College District began closing each of its campuses across the Valley.

Instructors at Chandler-Gilbert had to quickly re-strategize their curriculum and find a way to finish out the spring semester by teaching entirely online through video calls, emails, and digital quizzes.

The college has recently begun providing workshops for faculty members to become better equipped at teaching in multiple modalities, Guerriero noted, so they should feel more prepared for the upcoming semester.    

Though the college district has introduced a three-phased plan to reopen its campuses by the end of the summer, the colleges are still grappling with how to convince students the campuses will be safe from COVID-19.

A recent survey found more than 1,200 of the district’s students had chosen not to enroll in fall classes due to the pandemic. About 55 percent of these respondents were fearful of having to attend in-person classes and 15 percent said they likely couldn’t afford the tuition.

The possible decline in enrollment across the district’s multiple campuses has pushed administrators to consider offering more financial incentives for prospective students.    

On June 2, the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board discussed the possibility of reducing tuition for all full-time students by 50 percent, meaning they’d pay no more than $510 for 12 credit hours. Local residents are currently charged $1,020 for the same amount of coursework.

A tuition cut of this size would have cost the district nearly $25 million during the fall semester, according to Governing Board documents.

The board rejected the proposal on June 9 in a 4-2 vote, opting to keep tuition rates the same and invest more in the college district’s scholarship fund.

Guerriero said he’s optimistic Chandler-Gilbert’s enrollment numbers will start to approve over the next several weeks.

Many students feel uncertain about what the future holds, he said, so the college is trying to convey a message that it’s still “open for business.”

Chandler-Gilbert will have to prepare for the troubling scenario of several students enrolling at the last minute, Gurriero added, as many may be postponing their decision until the pandemic starts to subside.

“It’s very challenging for us to process enrollments rapidly,” he said, “It’s not like an Amazon shopping cart where you can just drop some classes into your shopping cart.”

If Chandler-Gilbert’s enrollment numbers don’t improve, Guerriero said the college could possibly trim down the number of sections offered for certain classes.

The upcoming semester will be nothing like what the college has dealt with in the past, he added.

But he said faculty and staff are trying to remain optimistic and stay committed to delivering a quality education to students – no matter what modality it’s taught through. “We’re going to be changed in many ways no matter what happens in the future because students are beginning to have these educational experiences that they never really thought they would have,” he said.