Charles Elliott, MBA, is Chief Information Officer/Vice-President of Information Technology at LeMoyne-Owen College. (Courtesy photo)

by Charles Elliott —

Even before the pandemic, LeMoyne-Owen College was working on ways to provide instructional options for our students.

When the difficult decision was made to close the campus to keep our LOC family safe, we immediately took action to ensure that our students, many of whom were excited about graduation or advancing to the next level in their college career, could complete their coursework from wherever they were.

It’s been said that when America catches a cold, African Americans catch the flu. This pandemic shined a light on the broad disparities in urban communities, from access to essential and healthcare resources to those that directly affect engaging in educational activity. We believe that technology can level the playing field; it was time to change the trajectory of the college, and as a result, our students’ lives.

We know from our day-to-day work that HBCUs often face unique challenges that may not manifest in predominantly white institutions (PWIs). We consider it a blessing that we have a college president, such as Dr. Carol Johnson-Dean, who is an incredible advocate for technological learning.

Our goal was to make this transition as easy and painless as possible for students, faculty and staff. In a short time, we have put platforms in place to ensure our students can complete their assignments remotely and graduate. We’re excited to report that there are some new and exciting changes on the horizon at LOC.

With the campus closure came some challenges for many of our students. Our traditional students who do not have devices of their own can no longer visit the computer lab to complete assignments.

Now that many businesses have closed or have implemented a work-from-home policy, we’re seeing the trickle-down effect for adults as well. Our nontraditional students in the Accelerated Studies for Adult Professionals (ASAP) program primarily work full or part-time, and many of them used the devices available at their employers to complete their studies.

We have since updated institution-owned devices to accommodate the latest learning platforms and also purchased a number of new devices. Students are now able to check out devices for use, similar to checking out a book from our campus library. We saw weekly check-out numbers increase, which demonstrates that we are meeting the needs of our students.

Additionally, a large percentage of our students have limited to no access to the Internet to complete assignments. Cell phones are useful, but not conducive to completing complex assignments. We are working with community partners, including a national Internet provider, to sponsor Internet service for underserved students based on eligibility, regardless of location.

Although this is a challenging time, this has presented us with an opportunity to not only to improve our learning options, but also to further develop our administrative processes, which will ultimately positively affect students and families. By Spring 2020, we hope to offer online payment for tuition and fees, housing and registration for students moving forward.

These changes will stay in place even post-pandemic to elevate the College. There are opportunities to attract even more students who prefer our intimate classroom settings and an HBCU experience tailored to their needs.

Additionally, it allows us to continue to leverage technology to offer a larger variety of classes, including cross-instruction by professors at other colleges and universities, and it will provide flexibility for our professors and instructors to teach despite any future crises. We won’t miss a beat because we continue to move forward for the benefit of our students.

I encourage you to learn more about how we’re moving the needle on technology at LOC through coursework and special programs, such as the Tech901 partnership and our National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, both of which will continue serve students online during this time.

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