It's not new that when many of Guam's students graduate from high school, they find themselves struggling with college-level math and English.
But in this COVID-19 pandemic, when our public schools have had to shut down for nearly an entire school year in 2020 and still are unable to teach five days of face-to-face learning this year, there are troubling indicators that more of our students could be slipping or falling further behind.
Guam Community College math and English placement data can be an indication of the struggles our students have experienced.
In 2021, GCC saw 80 enrollees place into college-level math, and 83 into developmental math. That means 49% of new GCC students placed in college-level math and 51% in developmental math. GCC saw 36 students, or 23%, who placed into college-level English. And 120 students, or 77%, placed into developmental English that same year.
In 2020, GCC didn’t conduct a lot of placement testing because of the COVID-19 restrictions, and that's not unique to the community college. Students across the nation had difficulty scheduling or taking college placement tests.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, GCC had a more optimistic picture of incoming freshmen: 443 placed into college math and 28 placed into developmental math. That same year, 691 placed into developmental English, and 341 into college English.
We thank GCC President Mary Okada for sharing this information.
Knowing that many future or current members of our workforce are going to need to work harder on academics and, ultimately, their career goals is one step closer to supporting them and providing GCC the financial and other support it needs so our community college can help its students.
The jobs future for Guam in general, and especially for those in our labor force or those working their way through college, looks dim because the stagnation of our tourism industry does not have an end in sight.
Students struggle with responsibilities at home
GCC also has noted a 6% decrease in enrollment in 2021, compared to 2020.
“We did anticipate that our enrollment may go down a little bit because, remember that many of the courses that we offer – cosmetology, automotive and many of the trades areas – those require hands-on, and so I guess they (students) are just not ready to come back face-to-face on the campus,” Okada said.
The parental responsibilities of some GCC students, at a time when day care services and in-person classes have been interrupted and the cost of day care services are out of reach for those who have lost jobs or remain on reduced hours, could be another factor in the reduced enrollment.
“The other component, maybe because they lost their jobs or another component, maybe they have to stay home to watch their kids because (schools are not offering in-person learning) five days a week and so families are having to juggle balancing going to school, watching kids and remaining employed or seeking employment. So the family structure and situation may have contributed to the decline of our enrollment,” Okada said.
GCC is not alone in the struggles to provide an adequate education for our students.
The Guam Department of Education, too, with more than 26,000 students under its responsibility, has had its share of challenges in past years. And then COVID-19 came along, and GDOE educators' tasks to ensure health and safety and to provide both online and in-person classes became a heavier lift.
Educators also under immense pressure
There are many teachers from preschool to high school to college who provide inspiration and support to countless students each school year, even with the fluctuating support for public education funding. Our teachers and school administrators have to continue with their mission, on top of their own challenges at home during this pandemic.
There are also many cases in which teachers are the only beacon of hope for our students who don't have stable homes.
It's a lot for educators in this pandemic to take. And it's an added emotional toll on educators when they feel they can't fail the schoolchildren in their care no matter how tough life-work balance has been.
We can only hope students and educators will continue to take steps forward.