When all Ohio college campuses closed in March, higher education changed on a dime. In a matter of days Lorain County Community College (LCCC), along with every other educational institution in the state, moved our entire curriculum online. From course lectures to advising sessions to our campus bookstore, everything went virtual.

And when we anticipated this shift presenting challenges for our students, we got creative. Like our students always do, we showed our resolve and innovation and came together to help them succeed in this new environment.

Together, we made it through a time when every day seemed to bring new changes, challenges and uncertainties. As we move into summer and then a new fall semester, many students and members of our community are left wondering, what’s next. What will this institution look like and be in the days, months and even years to come?

While no one holds all the answers or complete foresight into our future, I know what will drive LCCC now and in the future – our steadfast focus on students’ success.

Being steady amid the swirl

The uncertainty COVID-19 hurtled into our community months ago remains. According to the American Council on Education, 17 percent of students nationwide do not plan to return to a college campus. And a Simpson Scarborough report states that 1 in 10 high school seniors who were planning to attend a four-year college or university before the pandemic have already made alternative plans – nearly half of those have said they will enroll at a community college. This “swirl” movement has caused many to take a closer look at the strategy behind attending community colleges.

But LCCC and community colleges across Ohio have a response to the swirl: Year 1 at Home. This new state-wide effort among two-year institutions will help 2020 high school graduates find certainty and safety as they enter college. LCCC is ready. We are ready to welcome students who, just a few weeks ago, were prepared to call another college or university home for the next four years. Students like Sydney Contreras.

Sydney Contreras sits by the LCCC fountain, wearing her graduation cap and gown.
Sydney Contreras

Sydney graduated in May from our Early College High School program and was going to attend a four-year university. Her application was accepted, she had paid her enrollment fees, and she had submitted her housing application to live on campus.  But the impact of COVID-19 has led her in another direction. Sydney decided to continue to stay at home and enroll at LCCC. She plans to earn her associate degree in nursing here, then transfer all of her LCCC credits to Ohio University.  She’ll earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Ohio University through LCCC’s University Partnership program, all without leaving home. This wasn’t the plan Sydney had in place, but she’s remaining safe at home, saving thousands on tuition and housing costs, and staying on track toward her education and career goals. Read more about Sydney.

Like Sydney, many recent high school graduates had other college plans. But this pandemic has its grip on so many aspects of our lives. On-campus living is raising health concerns among students and their families, four-year university tuition rates are triggering financial doubt as our economy struggles, and a universal lack of face-to-face instruction is causing students to question the need to leave home at all.

The Year 1 at Home effort will help so many Ohio students put aside their questions about where and how to continue their educational path, alleviating the need for a gap year. But at LCCC, being at home doesn’t have to end with year one. Our University Partnership program lets students continue on in the safety and certainly of home. But the biggest factor at play in students’ hesitation to attend college is financial doubt.

A recent Forbes article discussed college loan debt – second to only mortgage debt – and how “in light of the uncertainty surrounding higher education for the 20-21 school year, the plunge into student loan debt is becoming less attractive by the minute.” The primary alternative to amassing student debt while this pandemic continues to stifle our economy is attending community college. With the second lowest tuition rates in Ohio and credits guaranteed to transfer, LCCC can be new college students’ alternative.

I know many students in our community are hesitant. They are holding out hope for last-minute certainty in an uncertain time. Whatever students decide, I hope they maintain their momentum and move forward on their educational path. And I hope they see a steady option for year one – and maybe beyond – at LCCC.

Restarting careers and our economy

Our economy is facing a steep downturn. U.S. employers cut 20.5 million jobs in April alone, pushing our nation’s unemployment rate to 14.7% – the highest level since the Great Depression. When our economy struggles, community colleges serve as a safety net and launch pad for those who need to retrain.

Some who attend will be among the millions who have lost their jobs because of recent lay-offs and know that when they look for new employment, they’ll need more education or credentials. Some will use this time to move into a high-demand field that’s weathered the pandemic, like health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing or cyber security.

And some have been inspired by the front-line workers keeping our community safe during a national crisis. LCCC has been the top educator of nurses, EMTs, police officers and firefighters in Lorain County. These careers will always be needed and in turn, LCCC will continue to do its part in training those who keep our community safe and healthy.

Remaining flexible and nimble

LCCC has always evolved to meet the needs of our dynamic community. Today, our agility is more important than ever. Most of our students were already juggling important roles outside of learner, including parent, employee or caretaker. But now our students face even more barriers as they pursue their education.

To meet our students where they are and adapt to the current state of our world and higher education, LCCC will offer flexible learning formats that let our students choose the learning environment that works best for them.

  • Online only courses will be delivered with no scheduled class times, allowing students to learn remotely and complete their coursework when their schedule allows
  • Online Live Conference will offer live web-conference style courses that meet at designated days and times
  • Blended courses will be part online, part scheduled face-to-face following physical space guidelines on campus
  • In-person classes will be held at specific times following physical space guidelines on campus

We’re implementing these flexible options because this pandemic should not stop any students from reaching their higher education goals. And neither should the struggles our students face outside their coursework, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Our culture of care will continue in any and every delivery method necessary. Whether our students need curbside food pick-up from our on-campus pantry, the Commodore Cupboard, or a refurbished laptop from our Computer Recycling program, we will continue to provide our students the wrap-around services and resources they need to succeed.

Two women load bags of food into a car.
Commodore Cupboard staff load donated food on to a cart to be taken to the campus food pantry.

Reimagination and reform

Mandatory campus closures hastened LCCC’s move toward full programs being offered online. But we will not move backward. Instead we will use this progress we have made as a catalyst for positive, permanent change.

We know that challenges lie ahead. Among those is a decrease in funding from the State of Ohio for all public education institutions. At LCCC we are preparing for at least a 20% reduction from the State during the next fiscal year. This is our economic reality. But our leadership’s strategic foresight has guided our organization through many trying times and it will guide us through this, too.

We know what to do – we must lean in hard to what is core to this college, core to our mission: delivering high quality higher education to our community. We are going to tighten our focus on the most critical aspects of this mission. And we’re going to deliver on this mission while keeping our students safe and healthy.

In all we do, we will keep an eye toward the future. There’s a report out by McKinsey & Company called, “Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal.” It lays out a framework for how leaders of businesses and institutions can look beyond the current crisis and navigate their organizations into a new normal. The report talks about the five Rs: resolve, resiliency, return, reimagination, reform.

We’ve shown resolve and resiliency in weathering this pandemic. Now as we slowly, thoughtfully, and responsibly enter into the return, we must grasp the opportunity presenting itself – the opportunity to reimagine and reform.

This pandemic has changed us all forever. LCCC will never be the same institution that we were at beginning of 2020. In just a few weeks and under great pressure, we became more flexible, more nimble and more focused than ever. I’m excited about what’s to come, because what the future looks like, is up to us.

A message to the Lorain County Community College campus and community:

I am grieving with you. I am deeply saddened, angry and overwhelmed by the horrific recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others that are rooted in racism and hate. These tragic events and ensuing violence have shaken our community and our nation, leaving us all mourning, outraged and utterly astonished. To our communities of color, I want you to know that Lorain County Community College denounces these actions as racially motivated violence that will not be tolerated. My heart aches for you and the fear and burden you endure in the continued presence of racism, and as an institution we stand in solidarity with each and every one of you.

These racially motivated acts of hate are merely one representation of the racism that still permeates our world. Recently, the pandemic began exposing those inequalities with a disproportionate amount of cases striking our Black communities. These tragedies, and the reasons behind them, cut against everything Lorain County Community College stands for. Lorain County Community College was founded on a core belief that all people deserve the opportunity to access and succeed in higher education. Our values are stronger than ever with a deep commitment to not only providing opportunity, but ensuring equity, inclusiveness and diversity in all we do. In recent years, we’ve taken on intentional work to nurture a culture of care that values diversity, equity and inclusion. This work is formally embedded into the College’s strategic plan, Vision 2025, which we developed in collaboration with our community. Our strategic plan puts forward one simple vision: create a vibrant community for ALL.

I am proud of LCCC’s commitment to equity and the fabric of diversity represented on campus among our students, faculty, staff and administration that mirrors the composition of our community. I am proud that LCCC can serve as a safe environment for individuals of varied backgrounds to pursue a better life. I am proud that in Lorain County Community College’s name you will find the word UNITY, and that our campus can bring us together to make our community a better, more equitable place. I am proud that our community has modeled the way with peaceful protests. I am proud that we are willing to recognize that our work in ensuring equity and inclusion and fighting racism and hate is not done. I am proud that we are truthful and willing to own the fact that we have much more work to do. I am proud that we, as a college and a community, have the courage to change and to fight for what is right.

Amidst all the emotions we are experiencing, we must, more now than ever, stand strong together to challenge such injustices, to combat hate, to support healing and to drive change. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

I pledge to you, as the community’s college, we will do all we can to help our students, employees and citizens heal and drive the change necessary to avoid future tragedies and loss of innocent lives due to hate. We can do better; we must do better.