Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read June 2021 —Miami Dade College President Madeline Pumariega talks to Invest: about the college’s actions to address the pandemic-related challenges and changes over the last year. She also speaks to the new direction the college is taking: a hybrid model of teaching, industry partnerships, and a focus on tech, AI, and healthcare.
How has Miami Dade College adapted to the changing environment of the pandemic?
We are always at the forefront of serving our community. We actually never closed our doors. Throughout the pandemic, we continued providing support services for our students and remained the center of culture and upward mobility for our residents. Adapting to the “new normal,” we held a hybrid Miami Book Fair, hybrid Miami Film Festival, and moved many other signature events online to ensure access and everyone’s health and safety. In March of last year, as soon as the pandemic was declared, we immediately pivoted to an online format in just days. In the fall we continued providing virtual learning options but also began offering face to face instruction once again and virtual and in-person student support services. This spring, we also launched MDC LIVE, which provides students an opportunity to take courses via the Zoom platform. LIVE is a format where live, interactive classes are held in a set schedule and time for students. It provides the structure of an in-person class but via a computer or tablet. This change was essential so our students could interact with our faculty and fellow classmates. Acknowledging that student success is holistic and entails much more than just academics, we also launched a series of financial incentive programs to help our students navigate tough economic times.
How has enrollment held up for MDC?
Generally speaking, when economic downturns happen, community college enrollment goes up. Yet, this time around, things have been very different as the situation driving the downturn was highly unusual. This is the first time in a hundred years that we’ve been in a pandemic. What we learned last summer and into the fall is that the pandemic did not cause community college enrollment to go up. On the contrary, we saw community college enrollment go down nationally. It was also down across the state and Miami Dade College was also affected. Fortunately, we have reduced a double-digit enrollment decline at MDC and today are only 1% down thanks to lots of hard work and innovation.
What is the future of the hybrid model — remote and in-person — in education?
Hybrid traditionally was half online and half face-to-face. I think that the evolution of hybrid will be what we call LIVE. The structure of the scheduled and live format for students is a good one. They know when they have class and when they have assignments due. It keeps a certain cadence that helps with student success. Students also know they can ask the professor questions, and that interactive part I think is going to be very attractive for students. We’re seeing that in terms of the popularity of the modality they choose to enroll in now.
What does innovation look like at MDC?
The higher education sector is seeing a big disruption accelerated by the pandemic. One, you’re not going to see continued increased state budgets for higher education. At some level, it will sustain itself to where we are today, where about 50% of our budget comes from the state and the other 50% comes from tuition. So, I think higher education is going to have to continue diversifying its funding model by looking at monetizing other aspects of the college that might increase our endowment. We also have to look at growing our enrollment. There is no doubt that what is happening in Miami-Dade County right now and the development of the tech scene will lead to a greater need for more human capital, more talent. The college is at the forefront of this movement, something which we’ve already been advancing through our partnerships with Tesla, Google and Amazon, as examples.
What is your overall vision to help support the tech ecosystem?
We’re concentrating on capacity building. How do we build capacity so that everybody has the opportunity to level up? We’re looking to help people obtain industry certifications in technology, and making sure the credentials are stackable. A learner can gain an industry certification, which leads to a college credit certificate, and that leads to an associate, and then a bachelor’s degree. They can also obtain employment with that certification as they study. I think this is the best way we can serve the tech needs of businesses and students.
Into what other sectors is the college looking to expand?
Artificial intelligence is an area in which you’ll see us expanding and not just in tech but across many sectors. Healthcare, for instance, has a big future with AI. This technology is impacting the way we learn and the way we live. Generally speaking, I see us expanding more deeply into healthcare via new technologies. The World Health Organization said there will be about 40 million more jobs in healthcare by 2030. You also really can’t talk about Miami and not talk about the trade and logistics area. This has always been and will continue to be a huge industry for us. We will continue working with industry partners in this area and growing through innovation.
What do you see as evolving in the higher education ecosystem?
I really see that students are going to want a personalized approach. One of our objectives is reimagining the student journey through the college. We believe that the kind of acceleration that happened to the work culture because of the pandemic is also going to happen to education. How do we make sure that we not only drive high-quality programs but also drive innovation? We want to make sure we are at the forefront of the vast changes that are happening in the sector.
How do you see the next year playing out at Miami Dade College?
Our fall enrollment will have courses in person, online and a live hybrid version. Our student support services are up and running, and the college is open. We have been open for services since last summer. We will plan more on-campus activities as well, something which already began this spring with commencement. Moving toward normalcy is something everyone at MDC is looking forward to.
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