Maxwell Williams said he misses a number of things about a live college experience.
“I miss getting to pick my professors’ brains in discussions,” he said. “I miss walking around campus and grabbing a bite to eat in the Student Union.
“And most of all, I miss getting to make connections with my peers through after class study sessions over coffee and doing stupid group projects, where there’s always that one person that doesn’t really pull their own weight.”
Williams is not alone. Many Highline students say they want to get back to normal. Others, however, say they see some benefits to switching to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The challenges of learning online haven’t helped enrollment. Despite a late-summer surge in enrollments, Highline’s head count is just above 8,000 as of early October, down more than 1,000 compared to this time last year.
While Running Start enrollment is comparable to a year ago, international student numbers are sharply down, as are the number of regular, tuition-paying students. College officials have repeatedly said they are working on plans to boost the college’s enrollment long-term.
Highline’s parking lots, normally full at this time of year, are largely empty because of the switch to distance learning.
The students who did enroll said they still sometimes struggle with the challenges of distance learning, in place since the end of Winter Quarter because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have found it harder to concentrate and much harder to have meaningful connections and conversations with my professors,” said Maxwell Williams, who started at Highline last spring.
“The thing I don’t like about online classes is that I fall behind a little bit and I slack off more,” student Katelyn Sok said. “I also dislike the fact that I can’t have classes at Highline where I am in a school environment, which helps me focus.’’
“I don’t prefer Zoom over in-person learning mainly because I get super distracted and it’s harder to learn,” said Sarah Shumard, second-year Highline student and film major.
“I dislike the fact that I can’t see my friends as often. I enjoy meeting in person much more,” said Joseph Lee, a second-year student and visual communications major.
“The only problem I have with online is that I have to work on everything by myself without that much help.” said one student. “Trying not to procrastinate and finishing all the assignments by yourself is something that comes with online I guess.”
For some students enrolled through the Running Start program, Highline online still beats being in high school.
“At Highline, online learning is way easier than going to high school and doing it,” said a new Running Start student. “I get to pick which Zoom classes I want at a specific time rather than waking up at 7 a.m. and learning for four hours.”
“I am going to stay at Highline and work toward my AA,” said another. “It’s just the easiest option for me right now rather than staying in high school and learning through Zoom.”
Students do see advantages to distance learning, particularly not having to drive to campus.
“My biggest grimace was the 50-minute classes,” said Nina Nguyen, who started at Highline in 2015, then came back to school two years ago.
“I could’ve easily used that 30 minutes of driving just being at home and using it to fulfill more than half of the 50-minute class,” she said. Now, she said, “I love it.”
“But this is a really first world problem to deal with, I’m really lucky to have the equipment and environment at home to enjoy distance learning in the first place,” said Nguyen.
Others found the learning environment still worked for them.
“My parents and professors were huge in being successful during Spring Quarter,” said Emma Moore.
Moore has been at Highline since fall 2019 chose Highline because of how much she and her siblings enjoyed it.
“My parents helped with motivation, and my professors were available for all my questions and concerns,” she said.
Others like being able to set their own schedules.
“I have more control of my time since I don’t have a set schedule for school,’’ said Jackie Acosta, second-year Highline student and education major.
“ I can stay at home instead of driving over to school and I can do things on my own time,’’ said Katelyn Sok.
Still, many students say they hope to return to campus someday.
“I miss being on campus more than I miss in-person classes at this point, so I do wish campus was open, but not until it is safe to do so,” said Emma Moore.
“I miss the little things most of all,” said Maxwell Williams. “Needless to say, I hope that we are able to return to in person learning as soon as it is safely possible.”
Thunderword reporters Edward Vega, Linda Sanchezaldana, and William Hong contributed to this story.