UPDATE FROM PRESIDENT, JASON S. WOOD, Ph.D. – May 1, 2020
Dear Faculty and Staff,
It seems like a month has passed since our College Forum last Friday and it might take you another week to read this entire message. 🙂
I continue to be most grateful for the care demonstrated by our faculty, staff, and students. It’s inspiring because your actions are meaningful and genuine. Care packages are being sent by referral to faculty and staff with a simple gift, from a local small business, as a token of appreciation. Similarly, students who are completing their programs are receiving special packages, made locally, with graduation regalia. A locally printed t-shirt is included as well as a simple gift. Darnell Hendricks has led a cadre of faculty and staff who have called every single student to check in on their well-being. Impressive. Faculty are going above and beyond to help students. For example, Jacki Shultz-Sloan and Stacey Place are finding innovative ways to comply with health protocol for their students to complete the physical therapy assistant program. Robin Hamel organized a free lunch pickup for students at local restaurants. The Knox folks, there’s a good crew there, are reaching out and serving students in a variety of ways. Annette Biggin is working through the logistic of offering face-to-face drivers education. Gift baskets with local bakery goods and drinks are being delivered to hospitals for hosting our students and hiring our graduates. And Rex Smith and Sue Friederick continue delivering food right to students at home. Many of our graduates will immediately join the workforce providing service on the front lines of the pandemic crisis. We are doing our very best to get them to the finish line while staying safe as possible. We care about our students and our communities. Our individual and collective efforts are making a difference one person at a time. We can do this!
Here are several updates:
- Academic Teaching and Learning
- Current Students: Many students are completing their courses and programs through virtual means. A few select programs, which have been deemed essential, are providing in-person learning experiences in order for students to complete their courses. Every face-to-face offering is following social distancing, health, safety, and cleaning protocol as prescribed by health care experts. Shout out to Kris Schoville and Tonia Breuer for sending me a photo via text demonstrating their compliance with social distancing protocol and use of Personal Protective Equipment! 🙂
- We are planning a virtual graduation celebration as well as providing opportunities for participating in future in-person graduation ceremonies. Thank you to, well, everyone for getting our students to this point. Special thanks to Heather Day, Marnie Easler, Danielle Seippel, Karen Campbell, and Dan Wackershauser for finding meaningful ways to celebrate our students during graduation.
- Summer/Fall Planning: You can imagine the multiple scenarios and diverse contingencies involved with college operations moving forward. Many people are working long hours to consider various alternatives depending on what may happen. Please know we are consulting with our insurance providers, legal counsel, and health care experts to do the best we can to keep people safe and healthy. The space and time requirements for conducting classes and providing services are complex and dynamic. As options are considered, we will share possibilities and seek input recognizing it may not always be possible to pursue solutions through the traditional process. We appreciate the work of the Academic Team and the Emergency Operations Team in coordinating their efforts for the benefit of our students. Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding as well as creative suggestions and innovative ideas.
- Enterprise Resource Planning: As discussed during the College Forum, we continue to pursue the possibility of a remote implementation of a new ERP product. We recognize there are shortcomings to our current tools. We know there will be struggles with a new vendor’s solution. At this point, we believe the benefits of the new technology far outweigh the issues we will experience during roll out. More data is being analyzed and additional considerations are underway to determine if we should move forward. We do anticipate some initial general fund budget relief during implementation. Specifically, the expenses associated with the ERP (product and personnel) won’t hit the general fund during the 24-30 month implementation because it is recorded in the capital budget. Our borrowing plan has already assumed this project is included and our Aa2 Moody rating indicates a healthy capacity to borrow against the future. One example of how the funds work: Heath Ahnen, the IT Director, will spend xx% of his time on ERP implementation and we can charge that same percentage to the capital budget, instead of the general fund during implementation. This is very similar to the process we use when we receive some types of grants. Regardless of how this unfolds, we are in this together and will strive to make our services better for students. Many thanks to the ERP review team (Caleb White, Kelly Kelly, Cora Halverson, Heath Ahnen, Mandy Henkel, Matthew Baute, Jake Mootz, and Danielle Seippel) for their diligent work on this project.
- Budget Update: This continues to be a particularly challenging budget because of the unknowns. We are in a healthy financial situation however the likely volatility and impending downturn necessitate well-thought out investments in fixed costs like compensation and benefits. We have already determined to present a budget to the Board of Directors that includes funding all positions, unless previously notified, for the July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 fiscal year. This is no small accomplishment and Caleb White deserves the lion’s share of credit for his expertise over time. Furthermore, we are committing to a 1% increase to base salaries for all faculty and staff. We will also grant a one-time stipend of $500 to be issued to all faculty and staff during a July 2020 pay check. In November we will reevaluate and consider an additional investment to base salaries and/or a one-time stipend to be implemented January 1, 2021, if possible. We believe this proposal, which needs Board approval, strikes a fiscally responsible balance between ensuring our faculty and staff can be sustained through this crisis and preparing the college as a whole for the uncertain economic future. We will use reserves to fund the one-time stipend and to balance the rest of the budget. You are welcome to send me questions, comments, or suggestions regarding this proposal. Any efforts you can make to save funds now is helpful for the future. Thank you to the people who submitted ideas or suggestions, your thoughts make a difference.
- Student Enrollments: We are closely monitoring applications and registrations as enrollments mean we are helping people reach their goals. Enrollments are also a strong indicator for our health and vitality, especially during crisis events and their aftermath. We have time to make a difference in our enrollment patterns using our influence and ingenuity. We can do this! A few indicators to be aware of:
- Applications: In April 2019 we had 108 applications and this April we had 125. For the 2020 year, we are up slightly with 7 more applications than the same time last year, which is a tremendous recovery from very low numbers in March due to the pandemic. Great work by our marketing team (Mike Steffel, Erin Kerkhoff, Sherry Kane, and Dan Wackershauser) and recruitment folks (Kyle Bennett, Bri Williamson, and Kaye Woodke)! 🙂
- Registrations: Last week 364 students had been registered (all remotely – wow) compared to 382 at the same point in the prior year. Through this week 426 students, or 57% of fall 2019 registrations, have been completed. There is more work to do and we are confident with continual emphasis on recruitment and registration we will be in a solid position. We appreciate the good work of the entire admissions team (Heather Day, Jen Taylor, Marnie Easler, Sherri Seitz, and Louise Bradley) and advising team (Jordyn Poad, Kelsey Wagner, Matt Schneider, and Pauline Wetter). 🙂
- Housing Contracts: On 4/28 we had 102 housing leases signed compared to 108 at the same time last year. There are 80 summer workers scheduled for a month or so which also constitutes additional revenue. We have a record high for summer student housing…15 people. Kudos to Stephanie Brown for all she puts into making our student housing into homes for people. 🙂
- Internal Leadership: Over the past several years, our Council Governance has become an important part of how we collaboratively accomplish projects across the college. We will soon have updates from each Council so they can report out their annual achievements. For 2020-2021, we were planning to reduce the initiatives by nearly half compared to the prior year in order to focus on the ERP implementation. We have determined to further scale back new projects not related to COVID-19. I appreciate Karen Campbell playing a lead role in organizing this work. Please stay tuned for updates.
We will schedule another College Forum for May 15 at noon via zoom. The agenda will include year-end updates from our Councils, highlights from faculty and staff, a budget update, additional information about returning to campus, and more. We encourage your participation. 🙂
Finally, if there is anything on you mind that I can help with, please don’t hesitate to reach out. If it takes me longer than a day or two to respond, feel free to re-send something with a reminder knowing I apologize in advance for a few things falling through the cracks. Again, it’s the kindness and compassion for each other that will be the best antidote for what ails some of society right now. And, as we return to campus over time, empathy and trust will help our strategies be more successful.
Please know that we care deeply about you and your families. Please stay safe and healthy. Thank you for all of your efforts to make a difference.
Jason S. Wood, Ph.D.
President of Southwest Tech