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Edmonds College: Challenges ahead

New buildings, but coronavirus means fewer international students

Series: Coronavirus | Story 271

Last updated 9/24/2020 at 5:29pm

Brian Soergel

Hazel Miller Hall, the STEM building, at Edmonds College.

Even before the coronavirus upended everything, the school previously known as Edmonds Community College had seen significant changes and additions.

The name change, for one, to Edmonds College, which administrators say better reflects the college's offering. More on that later.

And there's the shift to online learning, two brand new buildings with next-to-no students and a brand new residence hall with half-capacity.

And all of this falls into the lap of President Dr. Amit B. Singh, who in 2018 was named the Lynnwood college's fifth president. He succeeded the retiring Jean Hernandez.

A lot has changed since Edmonds Community was founded in 1967 – it was actually founded in Edmonds before moving to its current location just over the city line. But this new year, which starts with the fall quarter beginning Monday, Sept. 21, could be its most challenging.

Remote learning challenges

Edmonds College, like all of the state's 34 community and technical colleges, has always offered a robust selection of online classes. And since its spring quarter began in April, the majority of classes and services were held online and off campus, due to Gov. Jay Inslee's guidance concerning onsite learning restrictions.

Last month, the college announced that it would extend its remote operations and continue serving students and the community remotely through at least Jan. 1, pending further developments and with the exception of a few hands-on, on-campus classes.

Many Edmonds College faculty have taught online classes in the past, but some went through training and learning from colleagues, Singh said.

Instead of office hours, instructors now have virtual office hours, which Singh said have proven popular and offered added flexibility for students, who are reaching out more virtually than they may have done in an on-campus environment.

Singh said instructors can engage through micro-lectures, which includes short videos. "Now, we are partnering with Amazon Web Services, and we are offering completely virtual labs for classes, or just open lab hours. Flexible 24/7 – anybody can go in and use labs."

Faculty are also using tools such as Flipgrid, a video message board to engage with students.

But Edmonds College, like all two-year colleges, has a wide mix of students of different ages and backgrounds. That includes older students and others who may feel uncomfortable learning remotely.

"Not every student likes an online environment," Singh said, "but considering the situation, I think it's going pretty well."

As you might expect, bodies are few and far between on campus. Campus police and custodial staff are around, as are a few essential back-office staff.

"You can log into the website for everything," Singh said. "For financial advising, enrollment services, and you can talk to somebody live or virtually. It's all happening, but from a distance."

Loss of income

There are plenty of options for students to earn a degree online. Online colleges, such as Western Governors University, have been offering remote degrees for years.

"We will see both," Singh said. "Face-to-face and online. It remains to be seen. But my guess is the mix has changed and the question is by how much."

Also, like many two-year colleges, Edmonds College relies heavily on on-campus international students who comprise a large bulk of students and pay much more than in-state students.

"It's had a big, big impact on us in terms of the decline in enrollment," said Singh, adding the decline in students was about 60%. "Every year for the last five years, we were getting 750-plus new students every year on average."

There will be no new international students on campus when the new quarter starts next week. The college is not issuing the I-20 certificate of eligibility form that students need to get a visa. That's because international students in the U.S. must attend classes on campus, and are only allowed to take one online course per quarter or semester.

However, those international students currently on campus, in this age of COVID-19, can take all their classes online, Singh said.

Another financial hit: Edmonds College has residence halls for student housing – Rainier Place and the new Triton Court. The latter, which the college is leasing, expects to see only 40% to 50% occupancy this fall.

So the decline in international admissions has taken a bite on Edmonds College's budget. But there are other factors, as well, as the college receives about half of its budget from the state, Singh said.

"The guideline from the state Office of Fiscal Management was to prepare for a 15% cut from the state. That might change because there are no (Legislative) meetings in Olympia until January. So we don't quite know; maybe the cut will not be as much, but we just don't know. Right now, the question is how much the state will cut our budget. We don't expect new money coming in."

Tuition is fixed by the state, and was approved to increase by 2.5% this year, Singh said.

Hazel Miller STEM building

Another new building at Edmonds College is the new STEM building, Hazel Miller Hall. It officially opens next week, and Singh said there will be a few labs offered there, but the building won't be fully occupied due to the coronavirus.

The building has space for programs such as science, math, and nursing studies. The building has three levels, totaling nearly 70,000 square feet. It is named for the Hazel Miller Foundation, which donated $1.5 million to the college's science, technology, engineering, and math program in February.

Those who are allowed in the building will be required to wear a face mask and observe social-distancing guidelines.

The name change

Brian Soergel

Edmonds College President Dr. Amit B. Singh.

Edmonds Community College became Edmonds College in April, in part because it wanted to more accurately reflect that it offers four-year bachelor of applied science degrees, as well as to help boost international enrollments.

"The name reflects our comprehensive offering, and right now we're expanding our baccalaureate degrees," Singh said. "Normally, the community college name itself is for those going for two years or less, and that's how it is perceived."

Edmonds College offers one bachelor of applied science degree in Child, Youth, and Family Studies, and launches its second in Information Technology – Application Development this fall, and has more in development.

"Students are strongly supporting it," Singh said. "Our faculty and staff are, too."


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