Concerns of Student Attrition Drove Dallas College District to Launch 100% Online Enrollment

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

When COVID-19 swept toward Dallas County’s community colleges like a hurricane in mid-March, the question arose: Should the district close up shop and wait for the fall semester?

One overriding factor weighed on the mind of Dallas County Community College District Chancellor Dr. Joe May: If the district closed, would students return?

The answer spurred the district of 80,000-plus students to toggle from a brick-and-mortar operation to a 100-percent online institution of higher ed.

“We are looking at it through the lens of the student,” May said. “Many students, we know through unfortunate history, if they (experience) a gap in their education, many won’t come back.”

May, who had served as a head of a community college in Baton Rouge, has ridden out hurricanes, and he said the COVID-19 pandemic gives him a similar feeling. That experience helped prepare his thinking for what was next – but that’s where comparisons stop.

“An event like this (COVID-19) is fundamentally different,” he said. “A hurricane is limited geographically. Yeah, you might have been out of water and toilet paper at your location, but the Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs in Dallas have them,” he said.

May indicates the district will eventually resume in-person classes when the pandemic ends, but he believes that online learning will be a stronger component of the district’s learning model moving forward.

District Chief Innovation Officer Tim Marshall said it was no small feat moving the entire district online. Prior to COVID-19, about 40 percent of the district’s students had taken at least one online course while enrolled, according to district information.

“We had to rapidly convert thousands of course sections from face-to-face to online, including configuring our online Learning Management System to allow more than 60,000 students and hundreds of faculty to transition,” he wrote in an email to the Dallas Regional Chamber. “Part of the transition was training more than 200 faculty who had very little experience in the systems and methods of online instruction, in just one week.”

The district is still working with a small percentage of teachers and students to create a seamless transition.

“There are some remaining hurdles, attempting to get adequate technology in the hands of some faculty and students while citizens are asked to shelter in place,” he wrote. “This is compounded by the lack of available technology resources in the short term. Laptops and other remote equipment can take weeks to deliver and distribute.”