Tri-C Makes a Recovery after Two Years of COVID
On March 4, 2022, at 9:13 in Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C)’s East Education Center, Professor Howard Collier opens the door to the art room, then he and two of his students walk to begin class. The three set down their bags, pull out their sketchbooks, take their supplies and begin to set up.
Today, they will be painting a model, whose spot awaits elevated in the middle of the room, lights illuminating it from above. As time passes, more students make their way into the room as the classmates discuss the bad weather, their agenda for today’s class, and exchange jokes with each other. Despite everything happening in their lives outside of the classroom, for the instructors and students of ART-2080 Portrait Drawing and Painting, today is just another normal day.
As with the rest of Tri-C, this class has been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly two years since the first COVID lockdowns took place in the United States. Evidence of the pandemic’s effect on the school can be seen in the art room. The students sit in the confines of squares marked on the floor with blue tape, which dot the room, in light of social distancing measures. “Before COVID, we could get people closer. Now it’s sort of more difficult, consequently, class size has been reduced,” explained Collier, who has been teaching the class for11 years. He and the students were nevertheless happy to be back. “I had a lot of classes and loved it,” remarked student Elaine Podlipsky, “then COVID came, and it shut down…it was a disaster.”
More recently, the Omicron variant lead to a surge in cases in Cuyahoga County from late December to mid-January. Tri-C regularly lists COVID cases at campuses on its website, as well as offering data from previous months. “Tri-C continues to do its best to keep students safe as COVID still lingers around the county,” said Dean of Student Affairs Felisa R. Eafford at Eastern Campus. “We have stressed people to take the vaccine and I think they have the interest of the students in mind,” Collier said of the COVID guidelines.
Despite COVID’s lingering presence in the county, Tri-C has continued to gradually open back up. “We’re getting busier, definitely more people [are] coming back on campus. Obviously slower than pre-pandemic levels but we’re excited to have people back,” stated Lorraine Felan, Bookstore Manager at Tri-C’s Western Campus in Parma. “The school has been accommodating, on par with the rest of the schools,” stated Megan Kerns, a post-baccalaureate student, as she was preparing with two friends for a lab course in the Eastern Campus Student Center. Previously enrolled students coming back to the college’s campuses were also joined by newcomers. Student Eris Thomas, in Collier’s art class, was one of them, having previously taken classes in Michigan before transferring to Tri-c in the Spring. “I like it here and I like how challenging it is,” Thomas commented on the course.
Tri-C has long been seeing dropping enrollment rates, according to data from the Ohio Department of Higher Education website. Their most recent available data shows that Tri-C’sheadcount enrollment fell from 25,968 in the Fall of 2017 to 21,139 in Fall 2020. In light of this, Tri-C has been working to bring in new recruits. “One thing we have started doing is visit days[that] we have every Friday,” explained Sherri Gross, Director at theWestern CampusEnrollment Center. The decreasing number of cases has also allowed Tri C to expand its outreach to potential new students, especially high schoolers. According to Gross, Tri-C was preparing to bring back “Freshman Days” for high school seniors. Seniors in high schools located near the western Campus would come in, typically in the morning. “They will be doing everything they would be doing at an orientation as well as registering for their classes,” Gross explained.
While Tri C has been welcoming students back, the changes have not been without setbacks. Stafford explained that she “noticed students complaining about an uptick in technological difficulties, as online services are a crucial role in learning for students.” Despite this, Eafford was optimistic about what she saw as a greater focus on health and wellness. “There is more access to technology than before. We now have a digital component now for every class, virtual services are positive,” Eafford explained
The virus has altered Tri-C in a variety of ways, and while many challenges lie ahead as it continues to open up, students and faculty are making the best of what each new day brings, as they work to finish another semester amidst the background of the pandemic, and another cold Friday afternoon.
Written by Jonathan Beard