News: Quick Takes

N.C. community colleges make changes toward increasing flexibility

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

The State Board of Community Colleges has issued new measures to increase flexibility for students and teachers as they adjust to the national COVID-19 outbreak.

Community colleges are now allowed to apply tuition, registration fees, and other fees for spring 2020 courses to the coming summer, fall, and spring semesters. Colleges will also follow the same guidelines for making up instructional time as they do for adverse weather events, such as hurricanes. 

In addition, colleges can use student activity fees, instructional technology fees, and excess bookstore revenue to address the impact associated with COVID-19. They can also use instructional technology fees to buy computers and other technology for teachers instructing remotely.

The board approved the new rules over a conference call Thursday, March 19. The rules will remain in place for 180 days or until rescinded. 

“This has been a whirlwind week,” said N.C. Community College System President Peter Hans. “I know everyone is feeling anxiety about the public health crisis. It’s a challenging time for us.”

Board member Frank Johnson said the board should make it possible for schools to issue refunds, rather than only applying fees already paid to a future semester’s courses. To issue a refund, the board would have to further amend the rules. 

“We’re not an airline, we’re an agency of the North Carolina state government that provides a service that these folks are in some cases in dire need of,” Johnson said. “They’re using this money to advance themselves, and they can’t advance themselves for possibly a year based on your schedule.”

It’s important that schools keep libraries and computer labs open so students can access their courses, Hans said especially for students who don’t have the necessary technology at home.

The system may also work with private partners to extend technology to students, including cable companies and philanthropies, Hans said.

The board encourages as many community colleges classes as possible to transition online.

The system provides exceptions for public safety and public health courses, provided students and faculty follow social distancing protocols, students are willing to participate, and the school provides appropriate protective equipment.

“Face-to-face instruction should only take place if colleges feel it’s best to do so and if students voluntarily agree to do so,” Hans said. 

Colleges haven’t had time yet to consider workforce programs, as they’ve been focused mostly on the online transition. Hans said school administrations could find ways to assist employees who may lose their jobs short-term, possibly through online programs.

“So much of the short-term work force training is face-to-face and would be hard to continue given the health risks,” he said.