HCC, GCC keep robust online learning model in pandemic

  • Holyoke Community College GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 8/29/2021 8:57:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON – As the five colleges revert back to full in-person instruction, the area’s community colleges are moving in another direction. Both Holyoke Community College and Greenfield Community College are still offering more online or hybrid courses than in-person ones for the upcoming semester.

For GCC, just over half of their classes will be online this fall semester. In 2019, only 12% of course selections were listed as online courses.

At HCC, only about 30% of classes will be fully in-person this semester. In 2019, more than two-thirds of the college’s classes were face-to-face. The college is also offering some “blended face-to-face” courses which have some on-campus aspects, like a lab. Those courses account for about 10% of the total courses offered.

According to the colleges, their decisions to keep online learning as a big part of the schools was a reflection of two things: student demand and COVID-19 safety.

Chet Jordan, the dean of social sciences, professional studies & workforce development at GCC, has noticed that there is a similar demand for both in-person and online courses, matching the school’s nearly 50-50 spread.

“They’re shaking out pretty evenly,” Jordan said.

Mark Hudgik, the director of admissions at HCC, said that he also had heard feedback from students that went both ways.

“We were hearing from a number of students who said, you know, I really want to go to college, but I don’t want to do it online,” Hudgik said.

Hudgik said that students would express this feedback to their professors and advisors, who then reported it back to administrators. In addition to students wanting to return in-person, there also were students who wanted to remain online.

“There were also students who had avoided online learning because they didn’t think it was for them,” Hudgik said. “Being forced to work in an online environment really helped those students, particularly adults or those who have significant commitments outside of the classroom; it made it much easier to be a student.”

COVID-19 risks

While HCC did see an increase in student demand for in-person classes, they also weighed COVID-19 risks when deciding how many in-person classes to offer. Both HCC and GCC capped their in-person classes at 15 students as a safety measure.

Another factor that contributed to both colleges’ models was the decision by all Massachusetts community college presidents not to require the vaccine for students, as a measure to keep from imposing another barrier to education.

“We serve a broad community of students, and unlike residential school, where it’s fairly self-contained to students who live in dorms, we knew that we would have students who are coming in from jobs in retail or food service on health care,” said Hudgik, explaining why the community colleges may have to take more precautions than other institutions, like the Valley’s small, liberal arts schools.

While students taking online courses at the two community colleges may save money on gas or transportation, the fully online credits themselves are actually a bit more expensive. Students who take fully online, asynchronous classes will have to pay the same tuition as students taking in-person courses, plus a $10 fee for every online credit. At HCC, it’s an extra $20 per credit for online, asynchronous courses. The fee is because of “the additional technology and prep required to offer a course online,” according to Hudgik.

GCC plans to keep monitoring student demand and basing class offerings on those numbers, even after the pandemic.

HCC plans to keep a broad selection of online and remote courses going forward. “We do see going forward that we would have a similar mix of modalities,” Hudgik said.

The area’s liberal arts colleges have made the opposite decision. Smith, Amherst, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke have all decided to return to strictly in-person classes. UMass plans to revert all classes that are usually in-person back to that mode of instruction, according to their fall 2021 webpage.

“Classes will be taught in person on campus, in Smith classrooms, labs, studios and other facilities,” reads Smith’s COVID-19 website. “In keeping with the mission of the college, hybrid or remote courses are not offered, nor will remote participation for entire courses be allowed.”

If students need to quarantine, arrangements may be made to allow them to participate remotely for that time, according to Stacey Schmeidel, Smith’s senior director for news and strategic communications.

Hampshire College also plans to let students back on campus to “allow our students to experience the rich learning environment that a fully residential college experience provides,” said Jennifer Chrisler, the college’s chief advancement officer.

All of the five colleges have a vaccine requirement for both students and employees.


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