Northland Pioneer College (NPC) is among schools featured in “COVID on Campus,” a new audio documentary by American Public Media Reports, as a part of their Educate Podcast. American Public Radio is the second largest producer of public radio programming in the U.S. and can be heard on public radio stations around the country as well as online.

The documentary covers the threat the coronavirus poses to higher education institutions. Producers Sasha Aslanian and Stephen Smith explore how the economic, social and health pressures of the pandemic disproportionately affect students in ethnic minorities and from disadvantaged communities, as well as the broader issues of equity and accelerated change in higher education.

The audio documentary features interviews with NPC’s President Mark Vest, NPC’s Friends and Family Executive Director, Betsy Wilson, and Jessica Austin, an NPC student who lives in Kayenta on Arizona’s Navajo Nation as well as several NPC professors and employees.

The main topic of the segment about NPC, is how the pandemic is making getting through college harder for students on the wrong side of the digital divide. When NPC campuses closed, some students in the college’s rural communities couldn’t go online because they had no access to the internet. With the help of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office and NPC’s Friends and Family non-profit fundraising organization, laptops and hotspots were flown in to the Navajo Nation to assist NPC students with continuing their studies. Additionally, NPC informed its current students that WI-FI was available at campus/center locations so students who needed it could complete course work in the parking lots from their cars.

President Vest knew the college needed to act quickly to help its most vulnerable students. “Even in an era of widely available online education, for many of our students, and what our students need to find jobs locally, we are their only chance [at a college education].” In addition to providing struggling students with the tools to continue their education online, NPC also cut tuition nearly in half to just $40 per credit for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.

The audio documentary is accessible at NPC’s story in the “Covid on Campus” podcast begins around 22:26 and ends at 36:05. Other schools in the documentary include Wells College, MacMurray College, Holy Family College, and Florida International University.

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