Students milled about a rainy campus on Monday for the first day of school at Linn-Benton Community College. LBCC, just like many other community colleges around the country, was especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Universities have stayed flat but community colleges, who serve the most vulnerable populations, are down significantly,” said LBCC President Lisa Avery on this year’s enrollment. “Unfortunately we are not near our pre-COVID numbers.”
LBCC spokesperson Jennifer Boehmer estimates that around 1,500 students dropped out during the pandemic, either because they lost their jobs, got sick with the virus themselves or had to increase their caregiving responsibilities.
As an incentive for students to come back to school, LBCC offered the Rebound Scholarship, a $500 reward for students who dropped out during the pandemic to return. More than 360 students have taken advantage of this opportunity, more than Boehmer and Avery expected.
“We are so thrilled that this came together for our students,” Boehmer said. “It’s great to see that this $500 is enough to encourage people to take that next step into their future. We tried to make it really widely available because we just wanted it to be a no-strings attached encouragement to get people back on track. ”
People are also reading…
The money for the Rebound Scholarship came from a combination of college reserves and donations through the LBCC foundation. Avery said that while the scholarship was a pilot program for this fall, it is likely to continue throughout the rest of the year.
While more than 20,000 people come to LBCC for various programs each year, there are about 7,000 degree-seeking students this year. About 30% of classes are being offered fully in person, 20% are a combination of in person and online and the other 50% are fully virtual. Last year, with the exception of very few in person labs, all of the classes were virtual.
Proof of vaccination is not currently required to attend in person activities at LBCC, but that could change depending on state guidelines. Masks are required indoors except for when eating or drinking, and outdoors when social distancing cannot be achieved.
There was a free vaccination clinic on campus Monday morning, where students could choose to receive the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Free COVID-19 testing is available for students and employees at the Albany main campus, Health Occupations Center in Lebanon and the Benton Center in Corvallis. The free testing will continue throughout the term.
Avery anticipates that there will be a lot of parents coming back to school now that children are back to in-person learning. LBCC serves many rural parts of Linn and Benton counties, and Avery said the switch to online learning last year was difficult for those in rural communities.
“It’s been a time of transition for our community,” she said. “We know for a lot of our potential students, they are best served in person. The longer the pandemic stretches on, the more we are going to find ways to bring students back.”
Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_.