With unemployment expected to rise as the coronavirus pandemic continues, community colleges will be there to help get people back on their feet, according to those who oversee continuing education programs for adults.
“When the unemployment rate goes up significantly, community colleges tend to have higher enrollment,” said Susan Spry, vice-president of workforce development at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke. “Many people will ask themselves if they have the necessary skills to re-enter the workforce or if they should use the time that they are unemployed to brush up on those skills.”
Spry said during the coronavirus pandemic, enrollment has “flattened out.” But she expects a surge in enrollment in the next two months because four-year colleges and universities will soon be making decisions about the fall semester.
“Many of the programs that we expect growth are the skilled trades and the applied technologies,” she said. “Health care and health services programs continue to have overfilled enrollment. Those essential skill sets are needed in this economy.”
Spry said many of the students are either working part-time and going to school full-time or vice versa.
There are more than 1,400 community colleges across the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Education, with nearly half of all college students enrolled in such institutions. Many are attracted to such programs because of flexibility and low tuition.
Lauren Loeffler, vice-president of Northampton Community College’s workforce development and community education said community colleges are eager to help connect people with much needed skills.
“We want to get people back to work,” Loeffler said. “Whether that’s upskilling, continuing education or even noncredit classes, we want to help them get the skills they need. And we are quickly creating programs to address the needs for employers.”
Loeffler said community colleges work closely with CareerLink offices, which receive funding from the state for adult learners. She said they often pair together and develop a ‘high priority occupation list’ that indicates where people are needed immediately.
“Construction, machining and programming are just some of those jobs,” she said of the list, which is data driven and based on need. She said the Poconos continually has a need for resort- and tourism-related jobs. “What the colleges will do is align their programs to that list to get people retrained. We can create courses we’ve never had before.”
Loeffler said people who are re-entering the workforce can use CareerLink help and pay for training.
The credit courses are longer, like an associates degree, she said.
“But on the noncredit side, they are eight to 16 weeks,” she said. “They are very specific and they focus on just one topic. Those are the kinds of training that can help them get back to work quickly.”
Leslie Bartholomew, director of returning adult and veteran services at Lehigh Carbon Community College said many students who will be looking for jobs in a post-pandemic economy will be looking for something quick.
“They could matriculate into a degree program,” she said. “But we are really trying to get students skills in just a few months that will get you some basic skill sets that are in demand that will allow you to be marketable relatively quickly.”