Despite enrollment declines due to COVID-19, the number of high school students dually enrolled and those seeking transfer degrees at Piedmont Community College (PCC) remains steady. College leadership, faculty, and staff continue to offer options to assist students despite challenges caused by the pandemic. 

“We immediately put a laptop and hotspot loan program in place to help those who didn’t have these necessary tools for online learning,” shares Barbara Buchanan, Vice President, Instruction and Chief Academic Officer. “Hotspots were also made available in our parking areas and a variety of churches and businesses made their internet access available in parking lot areas, as well. For that community support, we are really grateful.” 

As the Spring 2020 semester changed to an online learning environment, PCC’s faculty members increased their training to ensure that all instruction would be productive in this new environment. 

The College was careful to follow all guidance offered from the Governor’s office, and when it was clear the Fall 2020 semester would also require a majority of online learning, faculty and staff took measure to ensure students had a variety of opportunities to meet their changing lives. This included adjusting class sizes and offering more course times for technical programs that require hands-on learning. In addition, faculty were encouraged to maintain a staggered work schedule, allowing students the chance to have safe face-to-face contact. 

Programs such as welding, cosmetology, nursing, and others with strong hands-on components, were among the first to continue with face-to-face instruction when possible. 

Free tutoring, either face-to-face, online, or over the phone, remained an option for students, as did access to the computer lab. Safeguards were put in place to offer a sanitized, social distanced environment. 

These, and the many other measured taken, allowed PCC to continue instruction. However, not all students flourish in an online environment. CARES Act funding, along with support from the College’s Foundation, have since assisted students needing to repeat a course due to COVID-19 circumstances, at no additional cost. This has allowed students to focus on their personal needs without losing ground in their educational journey. 

In addition to tracking headcount, or the number of students regardless of part-time or full-time enrollment, College personnel also capture full-time equivalent (FTE) figures. FTE is a measurement of the students’ total credit hours. This means that one student enrolled in approximately 30 contact hours equals one FTE, whereas two students enrolled in approximately 15 contact hours each also equals one FTE.

During a review of enrollment, it is clear that high school students registered in the free Career and College Promise program, an option that allows high schoolers to take college courses at no cost, has remained steady. In fact, compared to the 2019-2020 academic year, more students have enrolled in Fall and Spring courses in 2020-21, and those students are taking over 225 more courses this academic year. 

“I think high school students are continuing to enroll at higher rates because of the wonderful partnerships with have with the local schools, as well as our CCP staff who connect one-on-one with the students and families to encourage this free option,” commented Buchanan. 

PCC’s transfer courses have also seen steady enrollment. “Some of the hardest hit students during the pandemic have been those enrolled in technical programs, as well as students interested in earning their high school equivalency degree or advancing their education while in a correctional institution,” continued Buchanan. 

In an effort to find ways for students to remain successful, PCC embarked on strengthening short-term training courses, allowing students to enroll, succeed, and earn a credential that could lead to new employment.

With a growing list of courses in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and information technology, PCC is also offering new scholarship dollars to students enrolling in these short-term programs. The new Governors’ Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funding, as well as Golden Leaf, Project Skill Up, and State Employee Credit Union scholarship funds that were already in place, pay for tuition and supplies, making these credential courses more attainable for those under or unemployed during this challenging times.

Knowing that many in our community had experienced lay-offs, PCC’s Student Development Team also reached out to previously enrolled students during this time. “We were able to identify approximately 700 students from the past 5 years who have some college but have not yet earned a formal credential from PCC,” shares Shelly Stone-Moye, VP Student Development. “We called this group PWAYS, which means they are part way home to a credential. We reached out to hundreds of students to assess the best way to help them reach their educational goals by encouraging them to return home to PCC.” 

In addition, a shift in corrections education was mandated and PCC was able to offer  

“Alternative Learning Packets” to students since face-to-face instruction in the prisons was banned. 

“I’m proud of our students and staff for making the adjustments needed during this very uncertain time. We know it has not been easy for anyone” expresses Dr. Pamela G. Senegal, President, PCC. “At a time when education is needed most, to gain skills for a new career, as well as offer stability, 53 of the 58 North Carolina Community Colleges have witnessed a decrease in enrollment.” 

“We understand the various reasons people need to be home or are nervous to become an online learner, but my promise to our community members is that PCC’s Team will do all we can to offer options that are best for you. Face-to-face courses in a safe and welcoming environment with dedicated instructors and facilitators who are focused on your success; weekend and night options for short-term training for those employed but looking to advance in their career; and of course, continued options for our high school students and their families interested in saving money when it comes to their education.” 

About Piedmont Community College

Celebrating 50 years in 2020, Piedmont Community College is a welcoming environment for all students. In fact, alumni and current students alike value the individual attention received by faculty and staff, often sharing that PCC’s atmosphere offers the opportunity for growth in and out of the classroom.
Considered the Hometown College of residents in Person and Caswell counties, PCC’s Team encourages students to participate in student and community events and organizations to broaden their collegiate experience, as well as to strengthen their leadership skills.

PCC is currently registering students for eight-week classes that will be March 8. In addition, Summer and Fall registration will begin March 15. Learn more at www.piedmontcc.edu.

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