College of DuPage's 'stackable credentials' can open doors to new career opportunities

It seems incredible that one year has passed since COVID-19 forced us into remote learning and working environments.

No one could have predicted the scope of the pandemic's impact. People lost jobs, students put educational plans on hold, and families did their best to adapt to a new routine we all thought would last a few months at most.

As the months passed, education was hit hard and community colleges, in particular, bore the brunt. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment at community colleges dropped 10 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020.

A new survey from USAFacts, a nonprofit and nonpartisan civic initiative, shows that while 59 million adults reported that someone in their households planned to attend college this past fall, 76 percent of those households with students changed plans and more than a third canceled plans for college altogether.

These are disturbing numbers. Historically, when the economy takes a downward turn, people usually seek out community colleges as a way to retrain, change careers and upgrade skills.

However, with this pandemic, people were faced with challenges previously unforeseen. Some simply did not have the technology for remote learning, while others had to focus on their families first and help them adapt to remote living.

As we look forward to a post-pandemic educational landscape, some encouraging reports are emerging. A national survey of high school students by the ECMC Group — a nonprofit corporation focused on student success — reports that these students are less likely to attend a four-year school than their counterparts did pre-pandemic.

Fifty-two percent believe they can succeed with a postsecondary education other than a four-year degree. In addition, one quarter of high school students say they are more likely to attend a career and technical education school because of the pandemic.

This shows a willingness to focus on gaining the skills for a career rather than the credential itself, and College of DuPage is perfectly situated to help. For example, we have many certificate programs that provide the skills to enter the workforce while being stackable, meaning that a completed certificate can lead to additional certifications and a degree after the student gains employment.

As educators, we also must be attuned to workforce needs. The post-pandemic era may see rapid changes in approaches to how we work, where we work, and the role of education in preparing students for fulfilling careers.

I am excited that College of DuPage is partnering with the Glenbard Parent Series and the DuPage Regional Office of Education to present “Most Likely to Succeed: Anticipating the Future of Education and Careers,” featuring nationally renowned future-of-work strategist and author Heather E. McGowan.

This free livestreamed event will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 9, and I invite everyone to join us at to learn more about defining future career paths for a successful workforce.

We are also following the national discussion about free college tuition. While this is not a new idea, as several states have already implemented similar plans, the conversation is one in which we must participate, and I am interested to see where it will lead.

In the short term, College of DuPage is taking the first step to fully reopen its campus, offering more than 50 class sections completely in-person for the summer semester. These will be the first fully in-person classes offered at the college in a year.

With the availability of vaccines and a decline in infection rates, we feel this is the right path to take. The college also will continue to offer hybrid courses — where labs are held on-campus while classroom instruction is remote — along with virtual class meetings and traditional online courses.

Currently, I am working with the board of trustees, faculty, administrators and staff on our fall plans as we continue to monitor and follow local, state and national health guidelines.

It is truly staggering what we have experienced during the past year. College of DuPage was not immune to the impact of the pandemic.

Yet, we are always ready to help current and prospective students with their education needs. I look forward to seeing more students back on campus and am excited to look ahead toward the future of education and the college's continued role in advancing the success of our workforce.

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

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