Saturday, August 21, 2021

Moving Forward

I saw the sign.

Driving down Little Patuxent Parkway, my attention was turned to the breathtaking blue across the street and it was a sign. 

I think it’s new.

The sign is in front of Howard Community College and, in my opinion, it’s a real attention grabber. Not because it’s large or gaudy (it isn’t) but because it somehow manages to look like a traditional painted sign while really being an electronic one. And the particular shade of blue is stunning. 

Encountering the sign reminded me of some of the smart and admirable things that HCC has been doing lately. You may have seen that they have allocated specific funds for students whose circumstances have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Impact may include loss of personal or family income, increased utility bills, change in childcare, food needs, healthcare needs, change in housing expenses, technology-related expenses, or expenses incurred as a result of the changes to course format and instruction.

And just this week it was announced that HCC has paid off outstanding debt for more than 2,000 students, spending:

…$1.64 million of federal relief funds to clear the student debt for a total of 2,050 students. The college concentrated its debt assistance on students with outstanding balances from the start of the pandemic to the end of the summer 2021 session, which concluded recently concluded.

After the balances were cleared, each student received notification that any holds on their account were removed. This important step ensures students can register for classes, acquire transcripts, or transfer to four-year colleges and universities without owing any funds to Howard Community College. Additionally, students can now focus their personal funding on important everyday living expenses.

In both of these actions HCC is making it possible for students to move forward. COVID has placed so many lives on hold over the last year and a half. Each of us has experienced that in our own way. But it has been exceptionally challenging for members of our community who aren’t buoyed up by any sort of affluence: no family nest egg, no generational wealth, no steady income from high paying jobs with health care and assorted benefits.

For students like this, pursuing higher education during the best of times is a struggle and a stretch. Add a worldwide pandemic and it may well become impossible. Yet it is higher education that opens the door to success through better jobs and opportunities. HCC has seen the need and is responding with two initiatives that directly address the need: additional funding to students who are now struggling due to COVID and the forgiveness of debt. 

Going to college was once solely for the children of the wealthy. And it perpetuated more of the same. Community colleges like HCC have made it their goal to create programs for those who would have been overlooked and or excluded in the past. They serve a constituency for whom higher education is a consistent game-changer. Completing educational programs and pursuing related careers can have a long-term positive effect that is not only financial, but most likely will mean improved quality of life outcomes across the board.

Education is an investment in the student and in the future. HCC is responding to the challenges faced by students during the pandemic in a way that will allow them to get “unstuck” and move forward because they are investing in these students for the long haul. Students who are free to pursue their academic goals become community members who have choices in life. 

COVID has taken away so many choices. Howard County is fortunate to be the home of an educational institution that understands how crucial it is to have those choices and is willing to do something to make them possible.

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