By Sally Raskoff
Discussions on our campus lately have focused on the state budget cuts and how those affect us and our students. Each semester, as each round of cuts occurs, we have fewer and fewer spots for students to attend our classes at a time when demand is growing.
We’re a community college, so we are getting people from the universities and colleges who can’t get into classes there. We also have people who are trying to start college and those who are trying to retrain for new occupations. We have closely examined our costs, instituted hiring freezes and slashed supplies budgets, and we still have to cut out more classes to balance our budget.
In recent discussions, we debated not printing our schedule of classes and moving all of that information solely online. It’s already online, but we have still printed paper copies that are available on campus.
Many universities have made their catalogs and schedules online-only and we’d save a fair amount of money if we do so too. Many other community colleges are considering this and some have already stopped printing such information.
Sociologically, what are the pros and cons of making schedules and catalogs available only online?
Ecologically, it makes a lot of sense since these schedules are only useful to most people for a semester or so. A lot of paper and ink would be saved.
Because of our budget cuts, though, more students each semester have to run around campus to attend first classes to see if there is room to add. They do not often have much success, but they try anyway. The paper schedules come in handy for both faculty and students since we can leaf through it to see what other classes are available and where they are held.
More than once, I have been able to help a student find the class they needed by looking through the paper schedule. A few times, my computer wasn’t functioning and the paper version was all I had! Our IT department is understaffed due to the budget cuts and this affects the way we access technology. (The same situation exists with our maintenance staff but that’s another story!)
Students who have smart phones or other web devices can check the online listings or the online list of open classes. Students without such devices would be out of luck if no paper schedules were available, though. They would have to keep running back to the building that posts lists of open classes (if we keep printing those out and posting them).
Moving registration online is more efficient than previous enrollment strategies. However, the process of finding classes is facilitated by having easy access to a listing that doesn’t run out of battery power or is available only on a website that might crash or have access issues.
My bigger concerns about losing access to an officially printed paper schedule is that students who are not web savvy might lose access to entering and navigating college.
As a community college, not all of our students are “transfer ready” or even destined to go to a university where it’s necessary to have Internet access and a personal computer. We serve many different functions, but a big part of our mission is open access to those who want an education.
The budget cuts make it impossible to meet this objective since we have to turn students away. Because registration often prioritizes those who have more units for early enrollments, by the time new students can register, classes are all full.
It is those new students who have less knowledge about to how to navigate college processes. If these were all people from the upper income and social class level of society, they could easily use web pages to figure it all out. However, the population of community colleges includes people from all walks of life and all social class levels.
The “Digital Divide” refers to a gap in access to technology that is certainly structured by social class. The Pew Research Center did a recent study clearly showing that upper income people have more access to technology than those in lower income levels.
Clearly, there are people using technology at all income levels but the usage and access is much more at the higher levels. Based on this graph, it appears that of those who earn less than $30,000, 25% might not own a cell phone and 43% might not even use the internet.
This research, coupled with the idea that community colleges are moving towards putting all of their enrollment information online, suggests that our current educational model of open doors and access for all those who want an education is no longer valid.
With the economic issues plaguing states and the nation, our educational system is suffering with fewer and fewer people able to educate themselves. Using technology to save money adversely affects people in the lower income levels who may not have easy access to the Internet.
What does this mean for our society in coming years? What will it mean to any potential economic recovery when a large portion of the population is denied access to education?