We're discussing what's in store this spring semester for community colleges in our region.

We're discussing what's in store this spring semester for community colleges in our region.

With the onset of the pandemic last year, college students across the country were forced to make difficult decisions around their education. Community colleges expected an enrollment boost as a financially viable and shorter-term alternative to four-year institutions. But instead of an influx of students, they’ve been been met with an enrollment decrease of nearly 10%. That’s in contrast with a 2% enrollment drop at private four-year colleges. And four community colleges in our region have collectively lost more than 2,000 students in the past year.

Nevertheless, local community colleges are coming up with innovative ways to stay competitive and prepare students for an evolving job market during the pandemic. We check in with two local schools to see how they’re doing and what’s to come this spring semester.

Produced by Inés Rénique


  • Dr. Marilyn Hamilton Dean of Academic Affairs, University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC)
  • Dr. Anne Kress President, Northern Virginia Community College


  • 12:00:16

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast, it's Kojo For Kids with Police Officer Ana Hester. But first, we're checking in with local community colleges to hear how they've been faring throughout the pandemic and what they're doing to stay competitive this spring semester. Joining now is Dr. Marilyn Hamilton, Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of the District of Columbia Community College, also known as UDC-CC. Dr. Hamilton, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:46

    DR. MARILYN HAMILTONThank you for having me, Mr. Nnamdi.

  • 12:00:50

    NNAMDIListeners likely know the University of the District of Columbia, UDC, but they might not know much about the school's community college. Tell us a little about this branch of UDC.

  • 12:01:02

    HAMILTONWell, the University District of Columbia, as you know, is the only public historically black urban-focused land-grant university in the nation's capital. University of the District of Columbia Community College -- or UDC, as we're often called -- is a branch campus of the university. UDC-CC opened in the fall of 2009, and is comprised of three units. We have the Office of Academic Affairs, of which I am the Dean, offering credit-baring associate degree and certificate programs in early child education, nursing, mortuary science, liberal studies, computer science, architecture and aviation maintenance. We also have the non-credit portion of the House, which is the workforce development and lifelong learning, which provides job and professional training to help students meet the skills of -- that local employers need today.

  • 12:02:01

    HAMILTONAnd I don't know if you are aware, Kojo, that the students who go to the workforce development of lifelong program, and if they're a District resident, that's at no cost to them. And we have -- yes, yes. It's at no cost to those people.

  • 12:02:18

    NNAMDIOkay. Go ahead.

  • 12:02:19

    HAMILTONThen we have the Continuing Education Program for persons who wish to enhance their current job skills, and they receive CEUs. We currently have over 1,000 online courses of all types in this particular unit. So, that's a little bit, in a nutshell, of what UDC-CC has to offer.

  • 12:02:42

    NNAMDITell us a little bit more about UDC, itself. Is UDC -- for those of our listeners who may not know, the equivalent of a state school for residents?

  • 12:02:52

    HAMILTONWell, you can call it that. You can refer to it as that. Most of the -- it's really a very affordable option for residents and for students living in Maryland and Virginia, as well.

  • 12:03:06

    NNAMDIOkay. With the onset of the pandemic, the assumption was that community colleges would see a boost in enrollment, as college students prioritize staying closer to home and saving money. But instead, nationwide community colleges are seeing a decrease in enrollment of about 10 percent. Do you know why that is? And what did this decrease look like at your school?

  • 12:03:29

    HAMILTONWell, overall, the university experienced a decrease in enrollment. At the community college, specifically, we saw a decrease in enrollment of about 15 percent. But remember, we are a small school, and we don't have as many program offerings as some of the bigger schools. You know, Kojo, I thought that we were going to see a rise in enrollment. I was hearing from some of the high school counselors, "I hope you all are ready and being prepared," because a lot of parents did want to send their children away to school in a pandemic. But I believe there is a combination of a number of things. I think students decided that they just wanted to take a gap year. They were also faced with certain financial issues or challenges. For example, they might have had to go out to work as their parents lost jobs or got reassigned to other jobs that weren't paying as much as they were.

  • 12:04:28

    HAMILTONThe other thing is that we went to what we call emergency remote instruction, which required a lot of students to have access to the technologies, laptops and the various things that they would need including broadband access, as well. And for some students, that posed quite a bit of a challenge. So, it was a number of things. The university really rallied to overcome some of these by providing laptops to our first time in college students, as well as loaner laptops to the continuing students as well.

  • 12:05:06

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Dr. Anne Kress, President of the Northern Virginia Community College, also known as NOVA. Dr. Kress, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:05:15

    DR. ANNE KRESSThank you. Good afternoon.

  • 12:05:16

    NNAMDITell us a little bit about NOVA. It's part of a larger system across the Commonwealth. But where are your campuses?

  • 12:05:24

    KRESSSure. So, Northern Virginia Community College or NOVA has six campuses spread out across Northern Virginia. We have campuses in Alexandria, in Annandale, in Loudoun and Manassas. We also have one in Woodbridge and we have a standalone medical education campus in Springfield, Virginia. And we have about 70,000 students across all of those six campuses. We also have a very vibrant -- and especially vibrant right now -- online presence where, in any one year, we might have 12,000 students enrolled in our NOVA online programs.

  • 12:05:59

    NNAMDIWhen this pandemic hit, what did you think would happen to enrollment numbers, and what ended up actually happening?

  • 12:06:07

    KRESSSure. Well, I've been working in community colleges my career. And the typical wisdom is that when there is an economic downturn, that more students will come to community colleges for all sorts of reasons. But I think we all knew that this was not the typical downturn. So, we were very uncertain about what would happen even during the spring semester, when we went remote at NOVA. But, beginning with summer, we actually saw enrollment start to increase. When we went into fall, we saw our enrollment increase a couple of points. And then this spring, we're flat -- maybe a little bit up. Maybe less than one percent up for spring. So, we are really running contrary to what you're typically seeing across the country at community colleges.

  • 12:06:50

    NNAMDIWhat do you think this all means?

  • 12:06:55

    KRESSWell, I think it means a number of things. One is when we pick up the enrollment numbers and we look below that top line, we see that there are very strong enrollments in what we think as our career pathway programs. So, I think, you know, to some of the points earlier, we see students coming because they see the opportunity for them in the economy that was pre-pandemic disappearing, and they really need those new career pathways. So, I do think that's one bright spot for community colleges across the spectrum, regardless of where enrollment is, that real opportunity to help students. The other thing that I'll mention that is of great concern -- and it's not just at NOVA or at UDC-CC, but it's across the country -- is that we see a lot of students who are graduating seniors not going directly to college. And I appreciate the comments about a gap year, but I have also, as I said, worked in community colleges my whole life, and most of our students don't take gap years.

  • 12:07:53

    KRESSIf they don't start in college right away, they are less likely to ever start before. So, we have really redoubled our efforts in reaching out and having programs specifically designed to help students see how they can find an affordable education at NOVA.

  • 12:08:08

    NNAMDILet's go to Dave in Herndon, Virginia. Dave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:08:13

    DAVEGot a question for you. And first, in the honors of late Dr. Allen Wilkins, that was my mentor. I came out in '86.

  • 12:08:20


  • 12:08:20

    KRESSI want to ask you, do the teachers or professors at UDC only teach at UDC, or do they teach at Georgetown and Howard, as well?

  • 12:08:28

    NNAMDIDr. Hamilton.

  • 12:08:31

    HAMILTONYes, they do. We have teachers who come from a wide variety of backgrounds who teach across the District, Maryland and Virginia.

  • 12:08:41

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Dave. Let's go now to Troy in Washington, D.C. Troy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:08:51

    TROYHello, and good afternoon, everybody. I'm actually a college graduate, but I am interested in going back to college to learn the math that I did not pay attention to in high school or my first year through college. Would you guys consider putting together an associates in mathematics at UDC? Thank you.

  • 12:09:13

    NNAMDIMarilyn Hamilton?

  • 12:09:15

    HAMILTONOh, yes. We plan to do that. In fact, we have a proposal that we're looking at that we're developing. It's the AA, the associate degree in mathematics. We have been talking about that for some time now.

  • 12:09:29

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Dr. Kress, I'll start with you on this one. Has the pandemic affected what students are choosing to study?

  • 12:09:39

    KRESSAbsolutely. What we're seeing, really, I think are two tracks. One is that we're seeing more students who might be intending to transfer to a university in the future. Starting at NOVA, picking up those general education transfer courses, especially at a moment when maybe the university they were thinking of attending is largely remote. So, it makes more sense to stay home, save some money, get those credits under their belt and move forward. We're also seeing huge enrollment increases in our IT programs. Certainly, everything that we're doing, including this interview today, relies on technology. And so, NOVA has incredibly strong Information Technology programs. In fact, Northern Virginia Community College is the nation's largest producer of IT associate graduates. We're seeing growth in those programs. And then I think because of everything that we're seeing with the pandemic, we're seeing a huge increase in applications to our medical programs, whether it's nursing or occupational therapy or medical laboratory technology.

  • 12:10:45

    KRESSWe see people really drawn to the vocation that speaks to their passion to help others. So, those are some of the growth areas we're seeing.

  • 12:10:54

    NNAMDISame question to you, Dr. Hamilton. The pandemic, is it affecting what students are choosing to study?

  • 12:11:00

    HAMILTONI think at NOVA and at UDC-CC, we are seeing the same things. I think as the nation moves to requiring a skill in the technical workforce, we are seeing an uptick in the number of students who are choosing computer science, information technology, nursing, respiratory therapy and mortuary science, which we have. The nursing program and the respiratory therapy program are becoming more and more attractive. Our students are being made aware of what nurses are doing and what respiratory therapists are doing. So, yes, we have seen an uptick in enrollment in those areas.

  • 12:11:40

    NNAMDIHere now is Mariana in Dupont Circle. Mariana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:11:48

    MARIANAHi, thank you, Kojo. My name is Mariana, and I am a current University of District Columbia main campus student, but transferred in from the NOVA community college. I think something that is very important to me as being part of UDC community is recognizing the role that the school plays. As the only public institution, it gives an opportunity for those who otherwise would have, you know, education could be very cost-prohibitive. And so, it's a wonderful option for us. But I also am really proud to come from the legacy that the institution comes from, which was originally founded in 1851 as the Myrtilla Miner School for Colored Girls. And that focused on community and affordability and ensuring that there's a thriving middle class is really important.

  • 12:12:43

    NNAMDIThank you very much for you call. We're going to have to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation checking in on local community colleges. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:13:18

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're checking in on local community colleges. We're talking with Dr. Anne Kress, President of the Northern Virginia Community College, known as NOVA. And Dr. Marilyn Hamilton is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of the District Columbia Community College, also known as UDC-CC. Dr. Hamilton, amid the pandemic, people are rethinking jobs and career paths. What is the UDC Community College doing to remain competitive, this semester and beyond?

  • 12:13:48

    HAMILTONSo, one of the things that, as I said before, we're focusing on is the information technology track and in really making efforts to improve that. Beginning in our workforce development program, we have partnered with Generations to offer a certificate in Cloud Computing and Junior Web Development. And, again, I want to emphasize that persons who are residents of the District of Columbia can enter those programs, and we will pay for -- I mean, not we will pay. It's at no cost to them. And we will also pay for them to sit for the certificate exam. Using that, they can transfer into a credit-baring program and, again, it's very affordable. We have six information technology emphases that we're going to have.

  • 12:14:42

    HAMILTONWe're going to do Cisco, Linux, Cybersecurity, Amazon Web Services, Network Server and other cloud-based computing platforms, which includes iOS Swift. So, we're up-ticking the technology offerings that we're having. We're also looking to increase the number of nurses and respiratory therapists in the area and mortuary science majors. So, we're working in those programs, as well.

  • 12:15:21

    NNAMDIAnd Dr. Kress, what kind of help has NOVA received to support education amidst the pandemic? Has there been federal, state or private funding available to you during this period?

  • 12:15:29

    KRESSSure. The answer is actually all three. So, I'll just highlight a few programs that your listeners might be interested in. One is that Virginia, for Virginia residents, is offering what's called the Reemploying Virginians Programs, or REV, for short. And anyone who is listening who wants any information can just email novarev, N-O-V-A-R-E-V, @nvcc.edu for more information. But the REV program provides the full tuition for students who are entering into workforce fields, including some of the ones that I've already talked about in computer science information technology, some health programs, both credit and non-credit. So, that program is out there, and individuals can get up to $3,000 in tuition costs. There's also the opportunity to qualify for, obviously, basic state aid that Virginia students can get. But also a new program that will be launching with Bank of America, that Bank of America provided a grant to NOVA to provide opportunities to enter into career pathways with students who are underrepresented in those pathways right now, especially students of color.

  • 12:16:36

    KRESSSo, be on the lookout for that. Again, some tuition benefits and other benefits, including coaching for students who are entering into those fields. And then thanks to the federal stimulus dollars -- and I'm sure the same is true for UDC-CC -- that NOVA is able to offer students emergency aid grants. So, a student who might be facing challenges, whether paying for internet, paying for just the cost of living due to the pandemic, can qualify for CARES Act emergency dollars and soon CARISA Act emergency dollars that would be worth up to $1,000 a semester to them to help defray those costs. And then one other benefit I'll throw out there is that NOVA was delighted and honored to receive a grant to help students pay for childcare expenses. So, there really is not a financial reason for students not to be able to start at NOVA or at UDC-CC, or at any community college. We are here, waiting for you.

  • 12:17:37

    NNAMDIOkay. Here, now, is Tom in Washington D.C. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:43

    TOMHi, all. I'm an educator. I've worked in Virginia. I've worked in D.C. I currently work in D.C. And the one thing that I know when I worked in Virginia is that NOVA was a very great option for students, and they would verbalize that and they would tell us about it. And they would tell us about their plans. And I've worked with students with special needs and at-risk students to very traditional students. And when I work in the District, no one speaks about UDC-CC. No one even knows about the options. And I work, you know. And I feel like there's no marketing or there's no information about the programs in UDC-CC. So where's the outreach to students in the District? Where's the outreach to local community members? Like NOVA has given examples of today that UDC is doing, because even though it's in the District, it seems like it's kept like a secret, in some way. So, that's kind of my question and comment.

  • 12:18:36

    NNAMDIWell, frankly, it wasn't a secret to me. But Dr. Hamilton can tell you the kind of outreach they're doing.

  • 12:18:41

    HAMILTONYes. So, we often here that UDC is the well-best secret. We often used to chuckle about that. But we are really doing everything that we can to get our name into the community so that people know who we are and what we do. We have been discussing launching a more widespread campaign across the city. It really highlights our course offerings, program offerings. But we pretty much are working to make sure that everyone gets to know more about UDC and UDC-CC.

  • 12:19:23

    NNAMDIDr. Kress, can you tell us more about the Reemploying Virginians Program? How would a resident apply?

  • 12:19:30

    KRESSSure. So, again, if anyone is listening, they can just email that novarev@nvcc.edu address. The program is open for individuals who are currently either unemployed and receiving unemployment insurance or unemployment benefits or individuals who lost a full time job and are now employed in a part-time job making no more than $15 an hour. And these are programs that are short-term. They're workforce directed programs that are linking individuals to in-demand careers in information technology, early childhood education, criminal justice and healthcare. They are both credit and non-credit programs. And students who participate in the program will be able to get tuition cost scholarships. In addition to that, they would obviously qualify for the federal emergency aid grant, so they could get some of that assistance. In some cases, they would qualify for other kinds of financial aid if they were in credit programs.

  • 12:20:29

    KRESSAnd then last, I also want to mention that, in Virginia, there's a newer foundation, Virginia Ready, VA Ready -- you can search for it -- that will give individuals essentially $1,000 upon completion of a career program. So, again, the financial matter should not stand in the way of students or individuals who wish to become students seeking out that opportunity.

  • 12:20:52

    NNAMDIHere is Tim, in Washington D.C. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:56

    TIMYes. I wanted to know (unintelligible) NOVA and UDC. Do they have any master's degree programs for residents of those particular states, D.C. and Virginia (unintelligible) no cost to the resident, or very low cost?

  • 12:21:25

    NNAMDIOkay. We're talking with UDC-CC, so they wouldn't offer master's programs. But does UDC offer graduate programs, Dr. Hamilton?

  • 12:21:34

    HAMILTONYes, it does. We're very proud of our graduate programs. We have graduate programs in social work, education, special education, business administration, engineering. We even have a PhD program in urban sustainability, and one is in engineering. And we also have a law school.

  • 12:21:55

    NNAMDIOkay. Cool. We only have about a minute left, Dr. Kress. But NOVA Community College has been in the news around the return of a well-known professor, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. What can you tell us about her as a colleague and professor? And what will she be teaching?

  • 12:22:08

    KRESSSure. Well, obviously, Dr. Biden's role at NOVA is completely separate from her role as First Lady. Dr. Biden has taught at NOVA for a number of years and teaches English, and has a wonderful reputation amongst our students.

  • 12:22:25

    NNAMDIGreat. So, you'll be happy to welcome her back. I'm afraid we're just about out of time. Except for time for me to say thank you, Dr. Anne Kress, President of the Northern Virginia Community College, known as NOVA. Dr. Kress, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:41

    KRESSThank you.

  • 12:22:42

    NNAMDIAnd Dr. Marilyn Hamilton is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of the District of Columbia Community College, also known as UDC-CC. Dr. Hamilton, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:52

    HAMILTONAnd thank you for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:22:54

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, it's Kojo For Kids with Police Officer Ana Hester. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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