Anne Kress, Northern Virginia Community College

Since the Northern Virginia Community College transitioned to online-only instruction starting March 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, college President Anne Kress said staff have been limited to offering student support services remotely. 

The community college has hired internally more than a dozen people to serve as remote student specialists, helping to check in with students, connect them to services and more. 

“We see this as a real opportunity to serve our students,” Kress told InsideNoVa on April 24. “The shift to remote learning caused us to focus on how we are connecting [to students].” 

NOVA is preparing to offer summer and fall courses remotely due to the pandemic. 

Virginia’s Community Colleges Chancellor Glenn DuBois announced April 14 he created a statewide task force to make recommendations for the fall semester for all 23 community college systems in Virginia by May 15, and Kress was named as one of the chairs.

“We want the system to be prepared to the best of our ability,” she said. 

The task force is also tasked with making recommendations by Aug. 15 about other long-term changes to the community college system. 

“No one plan predicted a shut down this long,” Kress said. “We know it happened once, we know it could happen again.” 

Kress told InsideNoVa she has been thinking about how administrators can learn from the switch to online learning amid a pandemic and how they should anticipate student’s expectations of what should be available online. 

“This applies to all 23 colleges,” Kress said. “It might be more advantageous for students to access these services online.” 

Gov. Ralph Northam has issued a state of emergency and issued a stay at home order until June 10. Kress said she is helping prepare the college for a more uncertain future. 

She plans to discuss with the task force whether or not officials should consider possibly reducing course sizes. She is also considering if the college should offer more 8-week courses instead of 15-16 week courses. 

“We may be outside of a realm where the next 16 weeks everything will be the same,” Kress said. 

On March 19, NOVA extended remote learning through the rest of this semester. The community college has also adopted a pass/no pass grade for spring 2020 courses. NOVA teaches 75,000 students at six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge and through its Extended Learning Institute. 

Kress said she wonders if more students in the coming semesters will want to take courses online now that many have been forced to reckon with online learning due to the pandemic. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an increase in the number of people who study online,” she said. 

Even before the pandemic, Kress said the region needed healthcare and IT workers. Since the pandemic, those jobs have become even more important. Kress said NOVA can help people gain skills if they want to pursue those fields. 

The task force’s eventual recommendations will be sent to DuBois for consideration. 

Kress said the group has representatives from rural and suburban community colleges to make sure they are considering the context of these issues. Kress said faculty, student services professionals, human resources, government relations and other community college staff will assist the task force. 

“It is a diverse group of staffers,” she said. “I think it’ll strengthen our recommendations.” 

NOVA is also starting a program this summer for 11th or 12th graders in Northern Virginia who want to take free courses. The deadline to apply is May 15. Students in 11th or 12th grade can apply if they attend a public or private school in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties, as well as in the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.

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