In the past few weeks, students across the nation have returned to school. For many, the return to in-person learning is a welcome change after spending all or much of the past academic year in the world of virtual learning.
While both thanks and commendations go to educators across the country for the tremendous work they have done since March 2020 in adapting and quickly transitioning to a totally different style of teaching, it is good to have students back to class in-person. And while the global pandemic continues to impact us all, with proper precautions I hope that communities countrywide will be able to continue in-person learning for their students.
Northern Virginia Community College is one of the local institutions that adapted quickly to the spread of COVID-19 last year, but has recently reopened its doors to the more traditional in-person approach to providing instruction. While many institutions of higher learning across the country experienced a downturn in enrollment during the initial stages of the pandemic, NOVA was fortunate to record an increase in the number of students continuing their education.
Much of this success was, as noted above, due to the college’s extensive experience in offering quality distance education and the flexibility and innovation of NOVA’s faculty and staff in transitioning to expanded virtual learning opportunities, and in connecting with students to keep them on track in their educational pursuits.
With the onset of the current school year, the college has continued to provide the flexibility necessary to keep students involved and continuing their education. As the academic year opens, it is interesting to note that NOVA’s enrollment in credit-bearing classes is up 2.2% even though some students have found it necessary to lessen their course loads somewhat for the fall term to pursue employment opportunities or take care of other pressing needs.
As interesting, if not more so is that while 41% of current students have decided to return to in-person instruction on campuses throughout Northern Virginia, 39% have opted to continue the Zoom instruction option provided by the college – an option that was not available prior to the pandemic. The remaining 20% of students are continuing their studies through NOVA Online, an option that has been available in various formats for years at the college.
The ability of the college to provide these diverse options allows many students to mix online and in-person courses to fill their schedules while avoiding excessive time spent traveling between campuses, keeping their jobs, managing family responsibilities and graduating on time.
Historically, community college enrollment has been tied directly to the economy. As the economy slows, enrollment grows as students seek to enhance their job skills or increase their educational standing. Conversely, as the economy grows – which it currently is – enrollment tends to decrease. The role of the community college varies as these patterns ebb and flow. The ability of NOVA’s leadership to foresee these trends and adapt both course offerings and modes of delivering instruction, the better for the college, the community and, most importantly, the students – it is a true win-win-win.
We are blessed to have such a viable community college system in the Commonwealth and a particularly strong, vibrant and adaptable college in Northern Virginia. Since 1965, NOVA has been an educational leader in the region and throughout Virginia. With current leadership and the tremendous teaching and support staff, NOVA will continue to be a major force in the educational development of students for years to come and we will all be better for it.
The writer is the former principal of T.C. Williams High School, now called Alexandria City High School, from 1984 to 2006. He currently serves as Alexandria’s representative to the Northern Virginia Community College Board.