Looking forward to graduating this spring from Union High School, Lucy Villasis Cano expected to go straight to a four-year university. But of course, she didn’t plan on COVID-19.
The epidemic, while not the only factor influencing Villasis Cano’s decision, helped convince her to stay closer to home for now.
“With everything that’s going on,” she said, “my parents won’t have to stress out anymore and they’ll have two more years to save up for when I transfer.”
Instead of going straight to the University of Oklahoma to study law, Villasis Cano will take advantage of free tuition at Tulsa Community College, where she can earn an associate degree before moving to Norman in 2022.
Higher-education officials expected more students to follow the same route this year, forgoing four-year schools in favor of community colleges closer to home.
In fact, however, fewer students are taking advantage of the Tulsa Achieves program, which provides full tuition and fees for every graduating high school senior in Tulsa County to attend TCC. About 1,700 have signed up so far this year, compared to more than 2,000 a year ago.
“You would think it would be in the inverse,” said Rachael Achivare Hill, the director of admission and prospective student services at TCC. “We think there are a couple of things in play here.”
First, the epidemic forced schools to close for much of the spring semester, when TCC officials ordinarily would have been visiting campuses all across Tulsa to recruit new students and explain the Tulsa Achieves option.
Without those recruiting events, a lot of students may simply not realize they are missing the opportunity to go to TCC for free, Achivare Hill said.
Secondly, students seem to be putting off decisions on where to enroll this fall, perhaps waiting as long as possible to see how the COVID situation evolves, Achivare Hill said. With TCC classes starting Aug. 17, they can’t wait much longer, she said.
“Tulsa Achieves doesn’t allow a gap year,” she said, meaning students must enroll in the fall semester after graduating from high school to take advantage of the free tuition. “There’s still time to enroll, but there’s a limited window and the window is closing.”
TCC will offer a range of options for how to attend classes this fall, ranging from all in-person to all online or a combination of both.
Villasis Cano will opt to take some classes in person and others online.
“It’s a great opportunity,” she said. “I’m honestly really proud of myself for the decision I made.”