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GRCC President Pink tells state Senators the pandemic magnified obstacles, but sparked innovation and collaboration

Feb. 11, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The COVID 19 pandemic magnified technology gaps and other obstacles, sparking Grand Rapids Community College to take additional steps to ensure all students continued to have access to a quality education, GRCC President Bill Pink told state lawmakers Thursday.

Pink was one of four college presidents invited to testify remotely before the state Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Universities and Community Colleges, talking about lessons learned during the pandemic.

Pink was joined by Calvin University President Michael LeRoy, Eastern Michigan University President James Smith and North Central Michigan College President David Finley. A recording of the session is available here. 

He praised faculty and staff for responding quickly and creatively to meet students’ needs, both inside and outside the classroom.

After initially transitioning all classes remotely, GRCC adopted four educational formats, with online, hybrid, virtual real-time and in person classes. About 80 percent of fall 2020 classes had online components.

Pink told senators the shift revealed the virtual formats were effective for many students, allowing them to take classes scheduled around home and work responsibilities. He said the college will likely continue to offer an expanded number of online classes to augment in-person education as more students are able to return to campus.

“We learned our delivery modes now, in some cases, address some students who might not have been able to reach us before,” he said.

The pandemic also exposed gaps and created others, especially as students faced a reduction in work hours or found their jobs eliminated entirely.

“One of the things we realized being in an urban area like Grand Rapids is we have many students who have different needs, and a pandemic only magnified those,” Pink said.  “We have students who faced food and housing insecurity. We are honored and thrilled to help our students because we know those needs are out there.”

GRCC purchased more than 500 laptops and about 350 mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to loan students, and strengthened the Wi-Fi signal in a campus parking lot. The college also partnered with the Kent Public Library to provide students with Wi-Fi access in branch parking lots, and created a Wi-Fi zone in the new Lakeshore Campus under construction in Holland Township.

“If we’re going to be online, let’s make sure you can access those classes,” he said

Pink told lawmakers the college worked with community partners to provide students and their families with more than 2,000 packages of groceries from the campus food pantry since March, and nearly 500 meals in the fall semester alone. Donations also included hygiene products, cleaning supplies, baby supplies and pet food.

Organizations providing food or resources include Heart of West Michigan United Way; Kent County, Michigan government; GRCC Student Alliance; GRCC Campus Dining; the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education; Feeding America West Michigan; Plainsong Farm; the Grand Rapids Children's Museum; I Support the Girls; and others.

Pink also thanked senators for their support for the Futures for Frontliners program, which provides free community college tuition to people who served in essential roles during the spring shutdown, and Michigan Reconnect, which covers tuition for students 25 and older who don’t have a degree.

“Thank you for programs that are going to make a difference in our community,” he said. “They are going to make a big difference in helping our community to rebound from this pandemic. Not only will we get people back to work, but also get some of our companies the talent they need to get them back up and running. We’re honored you chose community colleges to deliver these programs and we look forward to being of service to our community and to our students.”

Grand Rapids Community College offers learners of all ages opportunities to gain credits for degrees or transfer and in-demand career skills leading to rewarding careers. GRCC was established in 1914 – Michigan’s first community college – and offers affordable classes on weekdays, evenings, Saturdays and online at locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.

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