There's still time to register, financial aid available for classes at College of DuPage

By Dr. Brian Caputo

College of DuPage

When a new school year begins, the excitement is contagious as the campus fills with students ready to pursue their academic goals.

But the past few months have been a roller coaster of preparations, forecasting and changes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all levels of education, making it difficult for students and parents to plan ahead.

I am proud that College of DuPage made a tough but necessary decision about how to deliver instruction during the fall semester much earlier than many colleges across the country.

We are offering virtual class meetings, traditional online courses and hybrid classes, which combine online learning with required in-person lab work.

Currently, we have approximately 1,000 students coming to our Glen Ellyn campus for these labs that are necessary to complete learning objectives. We follow strict protocols for building access, screening, wearing of masks and social distancing.

The rest of our students are learning remotely. Being at home may not be ideal, especially when it comes to taking part in campus activities. To help keep students, faculty, staff and the community connected, the college is planning a full slate of virtual activities this fall, which started with the annual back-to-school Chaparral Days celebration offered by our Office of Student Life.

The back-to-school events reached full capacity and demonstrated how much our students want to interact with each other and the college.

Higher education is still assessing the full impact of this unusual year. Most of us spent the summer tracking the impact of COVID-19 on the projected opening of schools, whether it was K-12 or colleges and universities. While some schools struggled with in-person or remote learning decisions, we saw new troubling trends emerge.

In the past, community college enrollment rose when the economy took a turn downward. We experienced this during the summer term, when our enrollment was up approximately 2%.

For this fall, we realized a nearly 7% increase in new student applications from fall 2019.

However, more students than expected decided to take a "gap year" (that is, a year off from college studies), preferring to wait to continue their education until they can be on campus again.

As for our adult student population, especially those with families, their attention was elsewhere. Parents closely monitored the changes surrounding the reopening of K-12 schools, with many opting to help their homebound children with remote learning rather than focus on their own academic goals. Others are simply struggling to survive in the face of crippling unemployment.

As a result, colleges and universities nationwide are reporting double-digit enrollment declines. COD's final numbers are not yet available, as we report our enrollment to the Illinois Community College Board based upon the count of students on the 10th day of instruction for the fall semester. While we anticipate a decline, we hope to buck the national trend of large enrollment decreases.

For students who can enroll in classes but are hesitant about doing so, I strongly urge you to not take a "gap year." A recent study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stated that deferring college by just one year could result in the potential loss of $90,000 in lifetime earnings.

Even though the fall semester has started, registration at College of DuPage still continues. We offer a 12-week session that begins Sept. 21 and an eight-week session beginning Oct. 19.

To better assist our students, we have created hot spots on campus, which allow students to access Wi-Fi from select areas of COD's parking lots.

The college is also working hard to help students financially so they can access higher education. For example, students meeting eligibility criteria for federal financial aid now have access to nearly $1 million through the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.

With resources provided by the federal government's Education Stabilization Fund Program, Illinois' GEER Fund is designed to close equity gaps in higher education that have been magnified by the pandemic.

These monies will support efforts to enroll and retain low-income, underrepresented and first-generation students who might not otherwise enroll or return to school due to COVID-19.

We continue to innovate during this time. This fall, College of DuPage became the first community college in the state of Illinois to offer a Creative Writing Certificate program, with courses that are stackable and transferable, articulating with creative writing degrees at four-year universities.

The pandemic has impacted all of us, but we should not put our lives on hold. College of DuPage is committed to student success. During these uncertain times, we will continue to search for new ways to help our students achieve their academic and career goals.

• Brian Caputo is the president of the College of DuPage.

Dr. Brian Caputo Courtesy of College of DuPage
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