Aug 28, 2020 - Health

Community colleges struggle with hands-on classes

Illustrated collage of hands with medical gloves holding a whisk, a wrench, and aa stethoscope
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Programs at community colleges and technical schools that require hands-on learning — like welding or auto repair — have a unique challenge as they try to stay open while keeping students safe.

Why it matters: One-third of higher education students enrolled last spring were from a community college. And their student bodies are often higher-risk than traditional colleges', with more students who work, come from communities hit hard by the virus, or are older.

Where it stands: Two-year programs are attempting to provide workarounds for their curriculum this fall in order to stay open while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.

  • Schools couldn't guarantee the safety of students who needed to be on-site to complete their certifications last semester, delaying their graduation. Colleges are trying to make sure that doesn't happen again.
  • Waubonsee Community College in Illinois will have hybrid courses for its welding, HVAC installation and automotive programs, staggering when students need to come to their class labs.
  • Manchester Community College added augmented reality and virtual reality to its computer science program for remote learning. Its nursing and technical programs have class cohorts, temperature checks and designated restrooms.
  • Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College spent the summer converting its program online for students who don't feel comfortable attending in-person.

Yes, but: Despite the preparation, there are no guarantees classes won't be shut down if cases emerge.

The bottom line: It can be difficult for some technical programs to be taught completely online. And if schools can't guarantee student safety, their certifications could suffer.

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