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The Early Impacts of COVID-19 on the Community College Student Experience

In mid-March, community colleges across the country transitioned from predominantly face-to-face classes to online instruction practically overnight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Colleges faced the daunting task of making rapid decisions about operations and instruction with little data or common reference points. Faculty had to restructure their courses to fit an online environment, although many instructors had never previously taught an online course. And students struggled with challenges associated with adapting to the online environment. To make matters more difficult, many of them did not have access to a dependable computer and/or adequate and reliable internet.

Dr. Linda GarciaDr. Linda Garcia

To help community college leaders understand what their students were experiencing, the Center for Community College Student Engagement offered a free online survey focused on how students were managing all the changes that came with the pandemic. The survey asked students about the information and support they were receiving from their college and from their instructors, the challenges they were facing as a result of the sudden transition to online classes, and their level of concern regarding food and housing security. The survey was administered between April 29 and June 9.

Twenty-five community colleges from 10 states administered the survey. Highlighted below are some of the results from nearly 13,000 student responses:

  • Community colleges were supportive of their students.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents agreed that their college had been generally supportive of them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, more than 80% said their college had done a good job helping them adapt to changes in instruction, especially in providing enough information to help them make the transition to online instruction.

Mike BohligMike Bohlig

When it came to support services, around 80% of respondents said they were satisfied with the services (academic advising, financial aid advising, career counseling, access to tutoring and access to library resources) offered by their college.

  • Black or African American students experienced more challenges and concerns than others.

Thirty-six percent of Black or African American students said accessing a reliable computer or laptop was a challenge, compared with 24% of Hispanic or Latinx students and 14% of White students. Forty-six percent of Black or African American students said they had to share a computer with other family members, compared with 37% of Hispanic or Latinx students and 23% of White students.

Also, 67% of Black or African American students expressed concern about having enough food for themselves and/or their family, compared with 60% of Hispanic or Latinx students and 44% of White students. More than 70% of Black or African American students were concerned about paying utility bills and paying their rent or mortgage. These concerns were also true for more than 65% of Hispanic or Latinx students and more than 50% of White students.

  • Students’ working hours were impacted.

Of the 74% of students who worked and attended college prior to COVID-19, 61% reported their work hours were reduced. Among these students, 7% lost their job. Of the students whose hours were not reduced and who did not lose their job, 52% reported their work hours increased as a result of the

Courtney AdkinsCourtney Adkins


  • More students preferred hybrid classes.

When asked which of three instructional formats they preferred, 42% of students chose in-class only instruction, 46% chose hybrid classes, and 12% reported they preferred online only instruction.

  • Finding a job, feeling isolated and paying for school were among the students’ top concerns.

The survey asked students to indicate their level of concern—slightly concerned, somewhat concerned or very concerned—about several topics. When the responses were combined, students indicated the most concern about the following topics:

Finding a job after completing their educational goals      76%

Feeling isolated                                                                          75%

Paying for their education                                                         73%

Access to health care                                                                  65%

Access to mental health services                                             58%


Community colleges that administered the survey include Blue Mountain Community College (OR), Central Oregon Community College (OR), Chemeketa Community College (OR), Clackamas Community College (OR), Clatsop Community College (OR), Coffeyville Community College (KS), College of the Mainland (TX), Columbia Gorge Community College (OR), Diné College (AZ), Indian Hills Community College (IA), Jackson College (MI), Lane Community College (OR), Linn-Benton Community College (OR), Metropolitan Community College (MO), Mt. Hood Community College (OR), North Central Texas College (TX), Oregon Coast Community College (OR), Portland Community College (OR), Rogue Community College (OR), Shawnee Community College (IL), Skagit Valley College (WA), Southwestern Oregon Community College (OR), SUNY Broome Community College (NY), Treasure Valley Community College (OR) and Umpqua Community College (OR).

For more information about the Center for Community College Student Engagement, visit


Dr. Linda L. GarcĂ­a is executive director; Mike Bohlig is assistant director of research, and Courtney Adkins is assistant director of publications at the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

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