Update From President, Jason S. Wood, Ph.D. – Jan 23, 2021

Dear College Community,

Congratulations to everyone!  By many measures we had a great first week to the semester!  Thank you for your efforts to cautiously re-open campus with purpose.  We appreciate your emphasis on helping students learn both inside and outside of the classroom.  We have reason to be hopeful.  We trust we can achieve our goals.  And we will continue to care for our students and each other through our compassionate actions.

Here’s an update from around the college:

  1. Overcoming COVID-19 in 2021:
    1. Please follow our safety protocol which includes physical distancing, wearing facemasks, and washing hands frequently.   Please report exposures, symptoms, or testing status/results in your household to Krista Weber or Dan Imhoff.  The information is confidential and helps us make better decisions about re-opening.  Please refer to the COVID plan on our website for details of our expectations.  We are grateful to the many, many people going above and beyond to be part of the solution by knowing and doing the elements of our plan.  Increasing levels of accountability will be implemented in order to continue re-opening campus.
    2. Due to positive tests and contract tracing, the Child Care Center is closed until Feb 1.
    3. Over 100 people signed up showing willingness to be vaccinated when the opportunity is available.  This is a good initial response.  We will, however, need a much higher percentage of people to participate if we are to continue re-opening campus as planned.  Stay tuned for more details on how we will achieve the results we need to continue serving more students.
  2. Classes are underway! 😊
    1. This is what we do best.  Thank you to everyone for your roles in helping our students learn skills and attributes which will improve their lives in their careers and in their communities.  Please send me an email if you’d like me to visit your class or sit in with students outside of class. Truly…thank you for creating opportunities for students to learn.
  3. Budget
    1. Enrollment: We remain 5.2% down in FTE.  There is a second block of 8-week courses midway through the semester and we will recruit students for those opportunities. Otherwise recruitment shifts to preparing for next year.  Retaining our current students through graduation still matters a great deal. If you know of a student who needs extra help, either with class or life, please refer them to the Knox Learning Center folks or to counseling/advising.  Spring graduation planning is just getting underway and we hope to have many, many students to celebrate in new and innovative ways.
    2. Finance: As we dive into the 2021-22 budget process in earnest, there are several agenda items at the Board meeting on 1/28/21 regarding our financial future.  I will provide a summary of the discussions next week.  Please let me know if you have thoughts, comments, or questions.  On the revenue side, a great deal of uncertainty will exist until we get the May financial forecasts for the state, the legislature adopts a budget, and we get an idea of summer/fall enrollments.  On the expense side, we will begin establishing priorities as we review your budget submissions and seek to determine the ideal balance between assuming risk related to investing in growth initiatives versus maintaining current successes.
    3. Federal Relief Funds:We have received just over $1.8 million in federal relief funds.  Just under $400,000 will be provided directly to students – we anticipate some will be awarded this semester, more next fall, and if any is left at the start of spring 2022.  We will spend the balance on bridging the gaps in our revenue caused by COVID, lapsed state funds, and enrollment declines.  Any remaining funds will be used to move the college towards re-opening.
    4. State Legislature:Thank you to Senator Marklein, Representative Tranel, and Representative Novak for meeting with me and two of our Board members last week.  They all expressed their gratitude for the good work our faculty and staff do to help students be prepared for good jobs.  I am grateful for their leadership and service during this difficult time.
      1. Here is a complete summary of our state-wide budget priorities (shorter version) which we reviewed with them.  My most important ask is for their consideration of expanding the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science transfer options beyond the current six technical colleges authorized to do so.  There is no fiscal impact on the state budget and, as a matter of equity and quality, would allow us to better serve the 30-40 people currently in our shared programs with Nicolet while expanding opportunities within our service district.
      2. While it would be nice to have an increase in operating funds or student aid, I am not optimistic this is the year and climate to push that appeal.  We did, however, outline the cost associated with serving an additional 2,000 graduates across the state if they do determine it is important for the technical colleges to have a larger impact on the economic recovery.
  4. Campus Communication Opportunities
    1. Please consider participating in our next Listening Session on January 28 from 7:30-8:30 am – a zoom link is in your calendar appt. We will break into smaller groups and seek your feedback and input on the following:
      1. Return to campus plan for faculty and staff
        1. What should we keep in mind as we continue to slowly re-open campus?
        2. How do you envision the future of remote work as we return to campus? Post COVID?
      2. Employer updates regarding COVID
        1. What are employers facing that we need to be aware of as we prep students for the workforce?
        2. Where is our opportunity to help?
        3. We look forward to the next College Forum on February 5th at 11:30 am.  The two main topics will be:
          1. Council Updates: Academic, Leadership, Operations, College, and Exec
            1. What has been accomplished in the last 4-6 months?
            2. What are the goals for the next 4-6 months?
          2. College President’s Report on Budget Priorities and Status, Leadership Development/Succession Planning, and Academic Plans for the next 1-3 years
  5. Please watch the supplemental videos from In-Service
    1. Project: RISE – Enterprise Resource Planning Implementation
    2. Accreditation Update
    3. Copyright FAQ’s
  6. Health Insurance Benefits
    1. It is my belief we enjoy very good health insurance benefits at Southwest Tech. Unfortunately the cost of health care grows quickly.  If we do not consider adjustments to our insurance programs we will be facing a 5% to 6% increase in annual cost.  In an effort to understand our options to reduce that increase, we received a report from Mercer who is our partner through the technical college  health care consortium. Their complete report is attached to the email sent on Saturday for your review and I hope you will appreciate the data being considered as part of this decision process.
    2. We are actively analyzing options to enhance benefits, lower costs, and provide more efficiency/value to you and the college.  These choices often compete with each other requiring difficult decisions to be considered among the broader college priorities.  We can select all, some, or none of the options outlined in the attachment.  Each proposal comes with a unique set of costs and outcomes which impact other facets of our budget and operations.
    3. Please note we will consider additional Health Savings Account contributions from the college to employees.  There is currently a Request for Proposals to solicit the best possible options.
    4. You are welcome to submit feedback or ask questions.  Connie Haberkorn is the best person to approach for clarification or more information. She will present highlights and answer questions at the college forum on Feb 5. This is very similar to the proposal from last spring which we tabled because we did not get enough focused input due to the pandemic.
  7. Orange Frog Kudos to…
    1. Cynde Larsen for recognizing Jake Wienkes!  Jake created a spot on the Knowledge Base in the Hub for faculty and staff to easily and quickly secure pre-approved office equipment for their home setups.  Well done, Jake!
    2. Maria Kindrai for recognizing Darci Colsch!  Darci volunteered at the vaccination clinic and helped over 75 people safely receive their shots.  We appreciate you, Darci!

Please know that I care about your well-being very much.  If you need something, please ask and I’ll do what I can to help.  A college student called me late last night indicating his car broke down and needed a ride to work this morning.  I was grateful for the chance to serve and I learned a lot about what college students are facing.  Perhaps when I pick him up this evening at the end of his shift I will learn even more.  There are many, many examples of ways our faculty and staff are helping each other, our students, or in our communities.  If you know of someone who makes a difference by serving others, please send me a note so I can thank them for their compassion.  Acts of kindness give hope, build trust, and help us learn to care more about the people around us.

Take care,


P.S. From my request last week…I am very grateful to the one person who sent me a summary of their efforts to emphasize achieving diversity through equity and inclusivity this week.  The efforts of one person matter.  Without divulging details out of respect for who/what was shared, it was very much a bright orange motivational spot for me both personally and professionally.  I do hope folks were able to learn something new from at least one of the array of activities we hosted and commit to being even a little kinder to others, a little more orange for our college.

Posted in COVID-19, Update