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For the Historians

The USS Fletcher at sea in July 1942
The USS Fletcher at sea in July 1942.

What would the Greatest Generation think of us?


I had to write a paper for a doc class this summer that examined the history of community colleges in a national, state, and local context, an assignment that gave me the opportunity to revisit Bill Moose’s very good history of Mitchell Community College. The college’s narrative is one of institutional persistence, of the gut-borne determination to survive.

In the fall of 1918, as the first World War was drawing to a close, the flu pandemic forced Mitchell to close its doors and send its students home. The town mostly shuttered and folks stayed put. The college’s women returned in December; they attended classes six days a week to make up for lost time, taking only Sundays and Christmas Day off.

In the spring of 1919, the flu returned, but this time the college stayed open. Women’s colleges of the day were unapologetically strict about letting their fragile charges wander outside the buildings anyway, so this version of a “stay-at-home” order fit in naturally with the college’s normal operations.

Five Thoughts on Returning to School

Philadelphia Inquirer photo

Sending students back to school in the midst of a pandemic presents an unparalleled challenge to educators, but it’s not impossible to overcome.


What happens every fall under normal circumstances–that is, the beginning of a new academic year in public schools across our country–has suddenly turned into one of the most challenging logistical feats educators have ever encountered.

Making matters worse, the ground keeps shifting under the schoolteachers, administrators, and local and state leaders who grapple with how to safely educate the millions of students normally under their care. COVID-19 is in a full rampage: multiple states are setting record-high infection rates, and national healthcare advisors warn of the consequences yet to come.

How, then, do we begin to explore the idea of teaching kids in a way that keeps everyone as safe as possible? Here are five things to keep in mind.

Why can’t colleges use endowment funds to fill budget gaps?

Mitchell Community College campus
Nursing students celebrate their pinning ceremony on the campus of Mitchell Community College in Statesville, NC

The complexities of higher ed finance make it surprising to realize a college endowment with millions–or billions–in the bank can’t use those dollars for just anything.


There’s a new and frequently occurring question these days around higher education’s response to COVID-19: Why are colleges and universities laying off employees and cutting faculty when they have millions (or billions) of dollars in their endowments?

The question itself is rational enough. It seems unjust that Harvard cannot muster the budget to pay its dining services workers when it has $40 billion in the bank.

However, the vast majority of American colleges and universities — and let’s make sure we include community colleges in this conversation — are not Harvard. Not even close. According to a 2014 ACE report, slightly over half of four- and two-year non-profit colleges and universities even have an endowment, with a median endowment value of $7.9 million.

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