Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Allen Community College Board of Trustees was a whirlwind summary of the changes institutions of higher education have had to make in response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past month.
President John Masterson began by joking that, due to the pandemic, the last trustees meeting seemed like “2.6 years ago,” but then struck a more serious tone, saying he’d “been amazed and pleased at [the] entire process” of ACC making necessary adjustments.
He also added “we’re getting pretty good at Zoom now,” and later revealed that ACC had luckily purchased 70 new licenses for the program just before the pandemic struck.
Thanks to this and other key measures, said Masterson, “students will have the opportunity to finish what they started” at the beginning of the semester.
ACC went totally online starting March 30, and Masterson said the college has already made the determination to remain online-only for the summer term as well.
During the transition, 102 course sections were converted to a digital format, with only six substitute instructors required.
Dean Sherry Phelan noted how accomodations were built into these courses in order to attend to the needs of hearing- and sight-impaired students.
What ACC will do regarding on-site courses in the fall semester remains unknown; however Masterson seemed concerned that reopening the college might not be possible.
Vice President Brian Counsil also said: “We don’t know if we’re going to have [in-person] classes in the fall.”
Those students who’ve been offered athletics scholarships are still encouraged to take advantage of them, regardless of whether fall sports can take place, though if possible, qualifying athletes are encouraged to take advantage of an extra semester of eligibility due to the cancellation of this spring’s events.
Not surprisingly, athletic recruitment has also been a challenge, but is still progressing thanks to digital technologies.
Prospective students are also still encouraged to “tour” the campus, though these tours will be conducted virtually instead of in person.
Eighteen students remain marooned on-campus, unable to move home, either due to travel restrictions or because it is medically risky to return.
A couple of students did not have adequate internet access to complete the semester from home, and so ACC is allowing them to stay on-campus as well.
These few students are being cared for and fed by the college, and those who cannot return home in summer will be able to live on-campus without cost.
Around 14 students were unable to retrieve their belongings from campus due to the pandemic, but ACC is taking steps to box those items and return them.
Vice President Jon Marshall noted that due to the already-high number of online ACC courses, “60% of courses went uninterrupted” due to the pandemic.
By contrast, significant financial accomodations had to be made for students, with refunds totalling around $290,000 for on-campus lodging and other items.
Another financial impact of the campus closure was that all but one member of the food staff was laid off; however, those employees should continue to get health insurance and be able to draw unemployment, said Brian Counsil.
Beyond food staff, Counsil said “we’ve not done any lay-offs at this point.”
One positive impact of the campus closure is that multiple painting and renovation projects have been taken up on campus, such as installing new thermostats in dorm rooms.
A number of new furniture amenities were approved for purchase by the board as well, including 20 chests of drawers, 10 beds and 60 mattresses, totalling $16,337.
Another positive outcome of the closure, noted Dean Cynthia Jacobson, is that progress on ACC’s new website is moving along much faster than originally anticipated.
One interesting discussion among trustees involved to what extent the college might be able to offer its facilities in the event the pandemic worsened, for example, by opening specific buildings to housing medical patients, especially first-responders exposed to COVID-19.
Officials from Allen County Regional Hospital told Masterson this shouldn’t be necessary, but nonetheless trustees agreed that if the college could help provide housing without endangering staff, they would be willing to assist.
In the past, ACC has provided housing aid during disasters, specifically severe flooding.