Lessons learned this year make us stronger as we look to 2021
By Brian Caputo
College of DuPage president
Some have characterized the year 2020 as one of the worst ever. For educational leaders, the combination of a worldwide pandemic, racial unrest, and a contentious political season has impacted how we educate and will likely have long-term effects on the future of higher education.
With a new year about to begin, most people are ready to leave this turbulence behind.
However, after the pandemic subsides, we will not be able to simply pick up where we left off, because our society is not the same as it was last March.
The end of any year is a time for reflection. While many may want to focus only on what lies ahead, I encourage everyone to take a moment and think about the past year, however difficult it may be.
Look for the positive, which may be as simple as spending more time with family, mastering a hobby or finally reading a book you kept putting aside.
These positives help us realize that some good can happen even during the worst of times, and this can be part of a new foundation upon which to build the future.
College of DuPage navigated the past year by relying on our willingness to adapt and collaborate, both inside the institution and within the community. I worked with a remarkable team that helped define our plans and stayed focused under ever-changing conditions in order to minimize confusion and maximize student learning.
As I look back, I want to highlight our positives.
First, to our faculty, staff and administrators, thank you for keeping student success at the forefront of what we did. We accomplished our educational objectives despite the enormous and quick change that was required when the pandemic first confronted us. Our employees responded to the challenges by demonstrating their ability to act quickly and be creative in their approaches.
I am also thankful for all of our community partners. Earlier this year, for example, the College of DuPage Foundation, in coordination with the COD Office of Institutional Advancement, worked with our community to raise more than $250,000 for the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund.
These funds provided crucial support to students who, during the pandemic, struggled to pay rent, buy food or pay for their education.
During our annual Up to S.N.O.W. Good (Serving the Needs of Others in Winter) campaign, which concluded earlier this month, College of DuPage employees and students donated more than $15,000 in much-needed items for families and children.
In addition, DuPage PADS, Bridge Communities, Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans, Family Shelter Services, and COD's Fuel Pantry also received a collective $11,000 in support from COD Cares, which fosters a culture of service that ultimately helps residents and students. I thank these partner agencies for providing assistance to our community, and I hope you continue to support them, as the need is still critical.
As always, I am so very thankful to our students who, under the most trying of conditions, continue to overcome challenges with an unfailing drive to succeed.
While remote learning is not easy for everyone, our students persevered, because they are not letting a pandemic derail their goals.
In addition, I thank our student leaders on campus for continuing to provide opportunities to engage students in activities and discussions that unite them from their remote locations.
As we look ahead, I want to strongly encourage students to not put their education on hold.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that, through November, submissions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (otherwise known as the FAFSA) by high school seniors declined by 17 percent from a year ago.
This troubling trend indicates that high school seniors, in the face of the pandemic, are deciding to defer their future educational plans for a variety of reasons.
Some reasons relate to the economy and are understandable.
But remember that delaying your higher education plans will impact your future career and earning potential. The time away from school also may make it more difficult to return.
For people who need to retrain in order to change careers or return to the workforce, now is the time to do so.
Take advantage of our offerings, especially certificate programs that take less time to complete. When the world can finally move past this pandemic, you will be well prepared with new skills for your career.
The lessons learned from the past year and our positive experiences will make us stronger as we move forward in 2021.
While I truly hope none of us see another worldwide pandemic, take a moment to reflect on what you have and give thanks. I wish all of you a safe and happy holiday season.
• Brian Caputo is the president of the College of DuPage.