Local Community Colleges Help Students With Rent, Food To Avoid Drop Outs

May 13, 2020

When Westmoreland County Community College transitioned to remote learning due to the coronavirus, the school asked students what they needed to stay in school.

“‘Do you need a computer? Do you need a hotspot? Do you need money for food? Do you need money for your rent?’” said President Tuesday Stanley.

Many said they did. A majority of community college students are considered non-traditional, which means they are retraining for a new career, they are parents or members of the military.

So far, the college has spent about $10,000 to cover costs that it isn’t technically responsible for. WCCC has paid landlords directly, loaned computers and hotspots and distributed grocery store gift cards.

“If they can’t feed their family, the last thing they are doing is taking care of themselves,” she said. “Which means the last thing they are doing is getting on their Zoom sessions and studying and be successful in school.”

Stanley calls it an investment in the future workforce.

“If we can help them temporarily until they get their stimulus money or unemployment, then they can continue their school work,” she said.

Summer enrollment has dropped by 10 percent and Stanley said it’s too early to tell what the impact will be on fall enrollment.

The Community College of Allegheny County has not released summer or fall enrollment numbers.

President Quintin Bullock said CCAC also offered emergency assistance to students though it’s Educational Foundation. Students could request up to $500 from the Emergency Fund. Bullock said the school is also waiving fees for late tuition payments.

Community colleges will also receive CARES act funding to support students. About half of the money will go directly to students. It’s unclear when those payments will be made, however.

Nearly 70 percent of CCAC students are part time and the average student age is 26. More than half of students are enrolled in programs to transfer to a four-year university. The other half is in career programs.

Bullock said he doesn’t know what the fall semester will look like; schedules could be staggered with fewer students in a class. But many of the community college programs require hands on training. In a welding program, for example, Bullock said they might reduce class sizes by half to maintain social distance while also practicing skills.

Stanley said community colleges are not built for six feet of social distance because of that hands on training. She said she is very concerned about lost revenue and expenses associated with the pandemic and campus closure.

“We build a workforce,” she said. “Delaying education is not only a problem for students but it also impacts the businesses looking to hire people.”

WESA receives funding from CCAC.