Inside College Retention, Recruitment and Returning During Pandemic

Published by Sophavid Choum-Starkey on

Two students walk in front of UCC’s administration office before the pandemic
Photo provided by UCC Marketing and Communications Department

Inside College Retention, Recruitment and Returning During Pandemic

The dropout rate of colleges and universities nationwide has increased since the pandemic hit. Experts say community colleges have been impacted greater than four-years colleges and universities.

Information from Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission
Graph created by Sophavid Choum-Starkey / The Mainstream

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, community colleges across the country have seen their enrollment decrease sharply among full-time and part-time students (-9.3% and -9.6%, respectively) from fall 2019 to fall 2020. UCC has also seen a major change in its enrollment in spring 2020 compared to spring 2019 by a headcount of 2,518. Those numbers come from the DataMart website of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

Jessica Richardson, UCC Recruitment and Advising Coordinator, reported that UCC is down from last year, but only a few more percentage points than UCC projected pre-COVID. Some of the neighboring community colleges are in a much worst place.  

“We are comparable to other Community College in Oregon with enrollment,” Richardson said. “I do think we have adapted to the change well. Our student service staff really went remote the moment we were told to start making a plan; we were ready in about a week. I knew within the same day I had a pretty solid plan in place to move forward. Lots of credit also needs to go to faculty for adjusting classes to online so effectively.”

Madalyn Grieb, a TRIO advising specialist at UCC, noted that students who participate in the  TRIO Transfer Opportunity Program have better retention in school because students have someone check up on them, understand what they’re going through and offer personalized support.

“Online learning can cause a lot of burnout for students. That is easy for them to drop out. Teaching yourself takes a lot of energy. It is like 10 steps for 1 step in-person (classroom),” Grieb added.

The Center for Community College Student Engagement surveyed over 6,000 students and published a COVID-19 Student Impact Survey for Oregon Colleges in June 2020.

Information from Center for Community College Student Engagement
Chart by Sophavid Choum-Starkey / The Mainstream
Graphic by Kacy Buxton / The Mainstream

The pandemic hit harder for non-traditional students who are parents, as many experts agree. Interestingly, older students in Douglas County are stepping back to pursue their degrees in middle of the pandemic.

Erin Liles, a 36-year-old mother of 4 and full-time cake decorator at Albertson, decided to step back to get her degree since dropping out of college in 2012. Liles thought it was a good time to get her degree while her kids are not busy with school and sport activities. She is ready to attend UCC in the next spring term with support from her company, husband and children.

Liles knows it will be lot of late nights and her time between family and work will greatly be stretched. Still, she believes getting higher education helps broaden her career opportunities and moved up in her company in the future. Nonetheless, she is worried about math classes and technology which she needs to catch up.

Erin Liles, cake decorator, is excited of returning back to college
Photo provided by Erin Liles

“No time like right now to better yourself with better education. Tomorrow is always tomorrow. And today is today. Take the first step,” she added.

Traegon Baker, a 24-year-old, went to Boise State University in Idaho and decided to drop out in 2017 because he could not afford the cost of living and school at the same time. The stress has impacted so much on his mental health. Relocating to Roseburg, Baker is less concerned about tuition fees for community colleges. Baker is currently working full-time at one of the retail stores in Roseburg and is willing to switch from full-time to part-time to pursue a nursing degree. He has never experienced online learning, but he is ready to try.

“I choose UCC as it is local, close to home and much more affordable than most other institutes. I’m very happy about going back to school, and my spouse supports me 100% on my education plan. I miss learning and I’m excited to start doing what I want to with my life. After finishing my associate, I’d like to start working and continuing my bachelor’s degree of nursing,” Baker expressed.

Another Roseburg resident, a 57-year-old who immigrated to the U.S 30 years ago, is also searching colleges for enrollment. She was laid off when the pandemic hit. Currently, she works part-time as a care giver. She wishes she should have stepped back into education at a much younger age, so she could land a better job.

Jessica Joy Richardson, UCC Recruitment and Advising Coordinator sharing some challenges in recruiting new students
Video created by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

“Non-credit classes such as CWT and GED at UCC have been hit harder on their number of enrollments as opposed to credit classes. CWT was not able to offer many in-person courses such as computer or exercising for the community during the pandemic. GED learners, in general, are not ready for classes to be online,” Richardson said.

UCC has faced challenges in recruitment for new students overall, especially recruiting high school graduates during the pandemic. Richardson reported her team was not able to visit high schools and to help the next generation come. UCC was not able to participate at community events such as helping with boys’ and girls’ clubs, participating in a lot of community meetings and forming community partnerships.

Many young, fresh high school graduates in Douglas County go straight to the workforce.

Insufficient finances and guidance are two of the main reasons for lacking a practical career schema.

Jessica Joy Richardson, UCC Recruitment and Advising Coordinator sharing her messages to high school graduates
Video created by Peyton Manning / The Mainstream

Kitrina Cunningham, a 19-year-old high school graduate, went straight to a job. She said that she wishes colleges were free like high schools. She said that she can’t afford to pay and is unsure what classes to take.

“I am afraid I am not smart enough for college because I barely made it at high school,” she stated.

The 19-year-old also shared that almost all of her graduate friends have chosen to work over going to college because college is expensive. Cunningham has heard about financial aid but does not know how to access it. Instead, she has tried to save up money from her minimum wage job for her educational goal in the future.

According to the report Economic Value of Umpqua Community College for the year 2018-19 (published in 2020), students have the potential to earn more as they achieve higher levels of education compared to maintaining a high school diploma. Students who earn an associate degree from UCC can expect approximate wages of $33,000 per year within Douglas County, approximately $7,100 more than someone with a high school diploma.

Information from The Economic Value of Umpqua Community College
Chart by Sophavid Choum-Starkey / The Mainstream
Graphic by Kacy Buxton / The Mainstream

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