The "new normal" is a term being thrown around a lot today. I am not sure there is a "new normal," as I believe it is the same normal, but a few years into the future. Many of the things that experts are saying are going to be different were already on the way to becoming the future normal. This includes the closing of many businesses, and even industries that have been on the financial borderline of change or closure for some time. With unemployment nearing 17 percent in Ohio, the pandemic’s impact on our state’s economy will likely be substantial. As the state continues to reopen, many businesses and organizations will begin to recover, but I believe it will be a slow process to get back to where we were before COVID-19 hit.

As the state of Ohio slowly begins to open up again and we enter this new phase of normal, many students in the Ohio Valley are facing unsure higher education plans for the fall term. The sudden changes we have all been experiencing are especially difficult for those preparing to start college in the fall for the first time. Not only did graduating seniors have graduation ceremonies and celebrations pulled out from under them, but now, after so much preparation, those plans seem far from certain.

Just as with Belmont College, many four-year residential colleges and universities are making plans to determine how to safely and effectively provide on-campus learning and are beginning to announce those plans. One thing I can say for sure; the cost of those experiences is considerable and no matter how much we prepare, we know that there is uncertainty surrounding the possibility of a "second wave" of COVID-19. With that scenario in mind, it is very hard to justify the high cost of that pricy tuition.

According to a recent CNBC report and College Board Research, at two-year public schools, tuition and fees are an estimated $3,730 for the 2019–2020 school year. Alternatively, at in-state four-year public schools, tuition is $10,440 and at four-year private universities it averages $36,880.

While all colleges and universities will have to continue to address the constant concerns regarding cost and student debt, the certainty remains that community colleges exemplify affordability in higher education. By providing affordable educational offerings, community colleges can prepare students to enter successful careers or transfer to four-year institutions to complete a bachelor’s degree.

With that concept in mind, Belmont College, along with our state’s other 22 community colleges, is promoting "Year 1 at Home." Year 1 at Home is an effort to impart to incoming first-year students that they can receive their first-year general education courses at an affordable cost at their local community college for online instruction in the fall. It is important to remember that first-year general education courses are largely the same at every two- and four-year institution in Ohio. While we are planning to offer some in-person classes on our campus, many of those classes will be offered in a hybrid fashion, with less time being spent on campus and sometime via remote tools.

Community colleges represent a great educational opportunity for students without sinking below a mountain of debt. We can provide students with affordability and convenience. Any credits that they take can be easily transferred to a four-year institution once the public health situation has stabilized with much less financial burden as they work towards their degree. Today, about half of all bachelor’s degree earners began their education at a community college according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

In addition to the convenience and affordability of Year 1 at Home at Belmont, students can stay on track with their college careers. This way they won’t risk taking time off before beginning their degree. Losing momentum in education can side-track even the most motivated student. Don’t let the pandemic or the uncertainty of the fall term be an obstacle to acquiring the education and training essential to a future career. Just as we did to help students complete their lab oriented classes when schools were reopened for spring, we will schedule as many hands-on labs as possible "up front" in classes this fall, so that if there is a reason to revert to totally online delivery of content again, the labs will have already been conducted. This ensures that our graduates will have the necessary experiences to work in the fields they are training in.

At Belmont College, we conduct many hands-on training courses, both credit and non-credit, in fields that include labs with state-of-the-art equipment, much of which is less than a year old. Some of the fastest growing career fields such as nursing, radiology, HVAC, and information systems employ Belmont College graduates. We offer not only certificate and degree programs in the areas of building preservation/restoration; business; early childhood education; engineering technology; health sciences; industrial trades; information technology and public safety, but also the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees which allow students the ability to transfer their credits towards a bachelor’s degree at four-year institutions. Moreover, through our Workforce Development Department, we have CDL (commercial truck driving licensure) classes in partnership with OV Trucking, phlebotomy training, as well as real estate certification in partnership with Hondros College.

Let’s start this "new normal" with a positive approach. With the right training and education, a good work ethic, and a desire to make a good paying income, there are jobs waiting for you today. Or if you are a recent high school graduate unsure of what your next steps might be, consider community college for your first year. If you are not sure what to do or how to start, talk to one of our program advisors. We are here, prepared for the "new normal," and ready to deliver academic degrees and technical training.

This fall, I encourage you to join us at Belmont College!