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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — With thousands of people furloughed and unemployed due to COVID-19, local community colleges are prepared for a potential increase in student enrollment.

Generally speaking, community colleges will see an increase in inquires and student enrollment whenever unemployment rates are up.

“When people are out of work, they’re looking at all of their options,” said Wes Torain, acting director of public relations for Calhoun Community College. “And education is one of those options.”

Community colleges offer associate degrees as well as certificates and industry licenses that can be achieved in a matter of months at an affordable cost.

“People tend to think that the trades are lower-paying jobs and skillsets, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Bob Grissim, director of workforce development at J.F. Drake State Community & Technical College.

These institutions have seen this before. Typically, with a high unemployment rate, more people consider education as an option to achieve different work and more money.

“If you get upskilled, your chances of finding employment are far increased, and your chances of gaining salary increase are improved,” Grissim said. “If you look at what’s going on today, everything that we teach here has been deemed essential.”

However, the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented. The with the economy expected to bounce back fairly quickly after COVID-19, community colleges don’t know what to expect.

“We’ve never had this experience before,” Torain said. “There is no playbook for this national health crisis that we’re in.”

At both Drake State and Calhoun Community College, summer classes will remain online with hopes to resume normal classes in the fall. But a poll of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars found that 58 percent of colleges across the country are considering or have already decided to remain fully online for fall 2020.