We are in this together: Helping America stay on track in the time of COVID
By Gary Brahm and Kate Smith
The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to stop and rethink how we live our lives. For many Americans, this phenomenon includes redefining what it means to go to college. As educators, we have a duty to help students endure the challenges that go along with living through a pandemic while maintaining steady progress toward a degree.
We are in this together is more than a popular refrain. It’s a guiding principle for our country and our colleges as we help our students stay on track. Online courses, designed with the distance learner in mind, function as avenues to college completion for students who are busy overcoming the particular hardships of 2020, or who are living in circumstances in which an online education simply makes sense.
We know, according to a SimpsonScarborough survey taken in July, that 41% of students heading back to college in this time of pandemic want hybrid classes instead of the usual routine of face-to-face learning. The survey also revealed 30% of returning students want entirely online programs enabling them to study from home. Among incoming freshmen, 30% want hybrid programs and 39% favor fully online college.
Brandman University and Rio Salado College have established a new partnership that will help the country meet demands for online education. We are providing seamless transfer pathways in which students can earn an associate degree from Rio Salado before enrolling in bachelor’s programs at Brandman. At the same time, we’ll also be able to help students living anywhere in the United States take supplemental classes that transfer to dozens of universities.
Our partnership is the product of planning and collaboration that predates the COVID-19 pandemic, and we look forward to helping students transfer from Rio Salado to Brandman long after this crisis is behind us. Rio Salado has joined more than 40 transfer partnerships supporting higher learning opportunities since 1978. Brandman similarly has a record of supporting transfer students, and earlier this year formally signed an agreement to ease the transfer process for California community college transfers.
Brandman and Rio Salado faculty enter their new relationship with several years’ experience specializing in online learning. Their faculty understand how online classes are lifelines for active duty military students, adult students working full-time and raising children, and many others who lack transportation or the means to attend college full-time or in-person. We chose online learning as our forte because we saw the power it has to make education affordable, accessible and more equitable to a greater number of students. This is especially important for students living in educational deserts; communities where there are people that have few – if any – local choices when they’re looking for a college.
Our services are well-suited to help students meet the challenges many people are facing today due to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing opportunities to learn from the comfort and safety of home. Our technology and unique models allow us to scale up our operations, to add courses and instructors as needed, and to meet unexpected demands created during such challenging times as the present.
Our colleges have a long-standing tradition of helping students receive up-to-date instruction in courses imparting the skills that will help graduates land the jobs of today or tomorrow. We will begin with Rio Salado offering pathways in which students who earn qualifying associate degrees can transfer to Brandman with a direct route to bachelor’s degrees in business and information technology. Additional programs will be added over time, depending on student and industry needs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics affirms the value of higher education. In 2019, U.S. employees in positions demanding an associate degree earned a median wage of about $55,000, whereas employees who qualified for their jobs by earning a high school diploma earned a median wage of about $38,000. Jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree paid a median wage of about $75,000.
As we witness record-breaking unemployment during this pandemic, we are committed to helping Americans rethink, retrain and retool themselves and their businesses. We also understand that the coronavirus has been particularly harmful among communities of color and blue-collar Americans who do not have the option of working from home. Brandman and Rio Salado share common values about education as a means of advancing equity and social justice, and we know online education can be a powerful tool to help people achieve their personal and academic goals on the way to more rewarding lives.
We look forward to growing a stronger relationship between our schools and helping people build intellectual resilience in the face of uncertainty. Whether in times of crisis or calm, adult learners will be able to look to Brandman and Rio Salado for college programs matching the rhythms of their individual lives.
Gary Brahm is chancellor of Brandman University. Kate Smith is interim president of Rio Salado College.
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