Quick Tips! 10 Things Colleges are Doing to Create Community

Videos May 18, 2020

For two-year colleges, it’s always been about “community.” And now that we are faced with a global pandemic that’s changed the world as we know it, creating this sense of “community” is more important than ever before. In this Quick Tips! video, CEO of Interact Dr. Pamela Cox-Otto shares 10 things colleges should consider doing to better serve their diverse student populations and create a stronger sense of community during this difficult time.


Hi everyone. I appear to be having a good hair day and I spent all day on the phone so I thought I would share some ideas that came up with our conversations today because they’re very fresh in my mind and I wanted to share them. So, 10 things that you can do and your college can do right now to create community within your own community. The reason why I’m bringing that up now is that for a long time, the power of “community” in our name, you know, “the community college,” has had no power. It’s the reason why you’ve seen so many schools dropping the “community” in their name because in fact it hurts them by people thinking that, “Oh, they’re just a community college,” which has been a problem for a long time.

So if you’re not going to get a bounce out of it, you might as well drop that. But the truth is, is that our tax base and the people we serve has always been a part of our community. And now is the moment where people have returned home and for the first time in a long darn time, proximity matters. People can take a class from Harvard, but is Harvard going to open up their Wi-Fi and allow you to sit in your car and access the internet for no money? No, they’re not. So, this is ideas that I want you to be thinking about and, frankly, the first one is, I just mentioned, is doing things like you have Wi-Fi coming into your campus. People can sit in their cars and be social distanced and be safe. Consider opening up the gates. Yes, get their email address. Yes, make sure they’re not doing anything untoward to your network. But other than that, let people have access, because there’s plenty of people out there who can’t afford Wi-Fi. And if you’re going to be offering classes where you expect them to download things, well, why not give them an easy access to that.

Second idea, making brown bag lunches for students. This is happening a lot of different places. It’s things like making a sandwich and a bag of chips and putting an apple. And when people, basically they flash their student ID or their registration, they’re getting a free brown bag lunch. There’s going to be hunger out there that— We know there’s been hunger for a while, but there’s going to be worse hunger. There are still people waiting to get their first check from being laid off and that’s been a while. So, hunger is going to be there. You can do simple things like that.

You could even open, number three, your cafeteria line and offer some hot meals, things that they can take out. Your cafeteria has been set up for that. You probably have cafeteria folk that are not fully employed right now. Bring them in, have them follow all safety procedures, and then use them to create some takeout meals for your students. Talk about a way to show that you’re in to help them be successful. It’s a good thing.

Number four is use custodial staff to deliver books. A lot of people are going to be considering, “How do I go pick up my book?” Your bookstore is probably not open. So how does that look like? Well, the answer is, you know, you can use custodial staff to do that or take them to a drop location and have them pick them up there. Million ways to use it, but it’s also a way to allow your staff who are not the white-collar folks who are on the phones and taking orders over dealing, working with students, having them help and be part of the solution that’s being offered to students.

Number five, offer BOGO classes. This happens more frequently in places like Texas where you’ve got a little bit of flexibility in the pricing structure, but things like if you take two summer classes, we’ll give you the third one free. Well, if they don’t take two summer classes, it doesn’t cost you anything and if they take two and you give them the third one free, it’s still probably worth it to you financially because of course all of your, the numbers that go into making up your budget are different in every state. I can’t tell you the exact mix, but put your folks on that because maybe it’s even buy-one-get-one. But the bottom line is give people a reason to engage right now and not put it off.

So, another piece. Oh, and another thing that I think about is, you’ve got a lot of faculty and staff with knowledge that can be doing wonderful things for the community. Capture some of that and have them do some ideas like “Now what?” People that teach personal finance classes, tell them “Now what?” Things to be doing at this time in our history, the pandemic. “Now what?” Personal safety by nursing program folk, how to garden, how to… You have a lot of knowledge in your school. Why not share that, even if it’s not on their topic, that kind of sharing of knowledge to make things a little easier during this time period. Great idea.

Number seven, making scarce things available. All over the country, there are folks that are opening up their labs that have sewing labs, making masks, that have 3D printing, opening them up to make the kind of mask that creates a face shield. If you’re not doing that, consider it, because personal protective equipment is a critical thing and we clearly don’t have enough yet. I’ve been making masks the last three weeks and I’m not that good a seamstress. So, if I can do it, your folks who’ve got the real skills could be doing it and it’s a way to say we’re in this to help our communities.

I would say number eight is horticulture programs. A lot of you have ag programs, horticulture programs. I have to admit my family were all ranchers. I have no idea how to grow things. Animals, sure. But plants? I kill them. So having how to do a victory garden, how to set up a box garden in your rental, out on the ledge. Simple things that you can grow that’ll give you some fresh kind of produce or at least something that allows you to supplement what you’re buying in stores. That’s all the kinds of information you have. I have a friend who has a llama farm and has been literally using the dung from the animals and putting them in buckets out on the road so that anybody who wants to have a garden can take that and use it to help grow their vegetables.

Buying food in bulk and breaking it down is my number nine. Your folks in the cafeteria have been buying bulk food for a long time. Bulk rice, bulk beans, all of those things. You have all of those folks that you’ve got those channels. Use those channels. Buy in the big quantities. Break it up into week-long meals. I will tell you, the scarcest thing out in a lot of stores are rice and beans. Things that store for a long time and that are hardy and can kind of keep life together, and there are people who even if they were in the store, they couldn’t pay for them. That’s a very good way to take something that’s low cost but important to sustain life and share it and… Or make them give you a buck. I don’t care, but it’s showing that you’re leveraging the skills and the things that you have to help the community.

And number 10 is working with organizations that gather food that would be thrown away. There’s a lot of them out there. Maybe you’ve got one. If you don’t got… Don’t got one? Oh, my. If you don’t have one, then perhaps it’s time for you to consider letting the college be the source of that. Grocery stores throw away old baked goods. They’re perfectly fine, but it’s past the sell-by date. Those go into dumpsters. Fresh produce, produce that’s damaged or it doesn’t look as pretty. There are restaurants are doing the same thing. That kind of coordination is a way that you can grab that food and make it available to folks that are going through a tough time.

Every single thing that I’m talking about today is you are part of your community. This is the moment where, without a dollar for them to spend on you, you show that you’re willing to invest in them, and that’s a powerful message. If I can be of help, give me a ring. But in the meantime, keep listening because I’m getting lots of ideas from all of the presidents and the marketing folk around the country, and I will share them as they become available. Take care. Thanks for joining me.


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