Update From President, Jason S. Wood, Ph.D. – Feb 27, 2021

Good afternoon,

Another month comes to a close.  The at-least-not-freezing temperatures locally will continue to trend warmer as we prepare to welcome the rejuvenating powers of spring.  Our traditional academic cycle is not unlike the seasons.  I am grateful for so many of our faculty and staff because you help students emerge into more confident experts who are well-prepared to enter the workforce.  Hopefully remembering the impact we have on students by improving their lives will energize our efforts.

Updates from around the college:

  1. Beating Covid in 2021
    1. We will continue to re-open campus as we work towards moving to the next stage of our plan.  Please remember safety protocol and remind peers to do the same.  Face masks, physical distancing, and washing hands are all helpful and effective ways to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
    2. Vacation Travel:  We are not requiring, but highly encouraging, communication of plans to travel with your supervisor. We expect faculty and staff to follow CDC guidelines and also respect the rules and regulations of local authorities. After you return from high-risk areas identified by the CDC, we expect people to quarantine for 10 days to help limit the spread of the virus. Please remain off campus during the quarantine period. Students may be asked to reschedule clinical assignments based on the health care facility’s policy.
  2. College Values:
    1. Tom Kretschman recently shared a very compelling article, attached (some photos have been removed), outlining mega-trends and related potential impacts on society. This quote is particularly relevant: “More than any other contemporary institution, the workplace has the possibility of bringing together diverse groups toward a common goal. As more people choose work that aligns with their values rather than just seeking to maximize their earnings, workplaces become a place to unite with the like-minded and seek meaning from working together. Perhaps the workplace, in turn, can be a site for the revitalization of a social fabric we all benefit from.” (Page 94)
    2. The Board recently heard an update on our efforts to adopt a new College Value: Inclusivity.  The proposed definition is: “We provide a welcoming environment that promotes respect for all members of the college community.  We commit to learning about our differences and commonalities in order to better appreciate the value of each person. We empower the college community to cultivate connections and defend the dignity and humanity of all.  We expect all members of our college community to live our Charger Respect Pledge.”
    3. Thank you to the College Council for their efforts to develop this new College Value.  They will now develop a proposal to present to the Board next month which will include updates and revisions to all of the current values.  You are welcome to send me feedback or contact a member of the College Council.
  3. Financial Update:
    1. The Governor has released his budget and a summary is attached. While we are grateful for the proposed investments, there is much work to be done by the legislature. Caleb White will present an update of our projected revenues and expenses at the next all-college zoom update on March 12. My top priority remains protecting benefitted positions in order to continue to provide learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom for our students. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or feedback on that priority.
    2. The largest portion of expenses in our budget is directly related to personnel. Wages and benefits historically comprise between 75% to 80% of the budget. During my time at the college we have funded annual cost of living increases at least equivalent to the Consumer Price Index and we plan to do so again this year. Health care costs continue to rise. The attached benefits update outlines the options we are currently exploring. A few questions have been submitted and here are brief responses:
      1. Can’t the college simply absorb the cost?
        1. We cannot simply absorb the costs without making difficult choices in other areas. As noted in the presentation, one option is to alter benefits and redistribute costs based on usage trends.  Another option is to maintain the same benefits which increases the cost.  If we choose this option, we must find the funds to cover the cost by increasing revenue or stop funding something we are currently doing.  I am not in favor of using one-time funds (reserve savings) to cover the cost of ongoing expenses.
      2. What is the process for deciding?  Will there be a vote?
        1. We are including the entire college in the process which is underway.  No, we are not planning a “vote” by the entire college to determine which option to pursue.  Human Resources solicited recommendations from our consultants, attached, and we are presenting those to the college with more information at the next College Update.  HR will gather input and feedback and make a recommendation to the Exec Team.  I will bring a recommendation to the Board during the budget process and the Board will vote to make the final decision during a public session.  My current thinking is that it would be best to modify the benefits and find funds to give employees through the Health Savings Account to help offset some of the increased expenses.  I am still very much considering alternatives and suggestions.  As noted in the presentation, please submit your comments, suggestions, feedback, etc. as noted.
    3. One priority the Governor declined to include in his biennial budget is the initiative related to the ability for technical colleges to offer Associate of Arts/Associate of Science (AA/AS) programs (36.31).  Please read this recent article if you are interested in learning more. We are simply asking that the process to approve transfer programs follow the current new program approval protocol, which is very rigorous, and not require University of Wisconsin Board oversight.
    4. The CRRSSA funds we received designated nearly $400,000 for direct aid to students.  We will issue the first disbursement to students in the next week.  For more information, including the communication students received, please see the attached email.  Thank you to the financial aid team (Sara Bahl, Stephanie Bernhardt, Margaret Chubb, and Cora Schmitz) for making this happen.
    5. For an update on our 2021-2022 Budget Priorities and Assumptions, please see the Board packet from the meeting held on 2/25.  Please note the concept review for a new Surgical Technician program which was approved. I would also draw your attention to the updated 10 year facilities plan.
  4. Faculty and Staff Recognition
    1. Please consider nominating a colleague to be formally recognized.  Employee award nominations and applications for the Innovation of the Year Award, Nicholas’ Servant-Leadership Award, and the Wood Family Employee Excellence Award are located on the Foundation department page on the Hub – Due Date is March 12, 2021!
  5. Kudos to…
    1. Danielle Seippel for the amount of time, effort, and expertise she is putting in on Project Rise.  She spent nearly 100 hours during February alone in meetings to plan and prepare.  Thank you, Danielle!
    2. Annetta Smith for all she does to keep the hiring process functioning during the pandemic.  She gracefully and expertly coordinates zoom interviews, background checks, and onboarding in a way that helps people feel welcome and valued.  Thank you, Annetta!
    3. Heather Fifrick for being selected to serve on the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.  Heather’s talents and experiences will benefit those she serves with and we appreciate the ability to stay connected.  Thank you, Heather!

In closing, please know we care about you and hope you and your family, friends, and loved ones are well.  If you need something, please let me know.

Thanks, Jason

Posted in COVID-19, Update