NELSONVILLE — Hocking College President Betty Young informed the Board of Trustees of the institution’s plans for moving forward with instruction in a post-COVID-19 world during a board meeting held Tuesday night.
All across Ohio, changes to K-12 and college educations were implemented in the course of just a few weeks. At Hocking, in-person classes were suspending in mid-March following an extended spring break. Staff and faculty, except for certain departments such as campus safety, were sent home.
The employees began to return to campus on Wednesday, May 6. To manage health screenings for all employees reporting to campus, start times have been staggered. This allows for smaller groups of people to be screened for a temperature over 100 degrees and properly fitting face masks. A color-coded wristband is then issued for that day. Visitors are also mandated to follow these procedures if they are to be on campus.
However, Hocking College has long prided itself for hands-on instruction. There are three schools that will require field experience over the summer — Allied Health and Nursing and Public Safety Services; Natural Resources; and Workforce Development. Each of these schools have created revised schedules to allow for the classes.
As for the upcoming Fall semester, the current plan is to move forward with the regular calendar. Several alternative scenarios are being planned, President Young noted Tuesday evening.
Financially, the college is in fair shape, the trustees were informed.
“We’re OK, and we’re going to be OK through COVID-19 and whatever else is thrown our way,” Young said. “So where do we go from here?”
Young said top priority is health and safety of students and employees, but second priority is to continue the education of students with intent to help them graduate.
“What we know now is the Coronavirus will pose a substantial risk for an extended period of time, we do not know how long,” she said, adding that it is now also apparent that new ways to operate will have to be maintained, such as increased sanitation and personal protective equipment.
She noted that online classes are favored by older students, but young, traditional students prefer in-person and hands-on learning environments.
Revenue for the institution is coming in from several programs the college runs, as well as the CARES Act. The college was awarded $2.4 million for operational costs due to COVID-19 and for student aid to be split 50-50.
Young said all students will be contacted by the College to learn what their added costs would be and making decisions on funding based on that information.
“We’re sending checks of $500 to students right now based on individual and personal needs,” she said. “By the way, 66 percent of the students that we’ve called have now registered for Spring or Fall Semester. So our retention is looking good.”
She said that for the Fall semester, classes will be offered virtually, in a hybrid form, or in classrooms. Occupancy levels for the dorms may be modified, and classroom occupancies could be modified as well.
“But we anticipate we may do some modifications which may lower our overall revenue from enrollment this year,” she said. “It potentially could pop up as a little loss in enrollment. But at the end of the day, we want to make sure we’re doing the safest thing we can do without foregoing what we do.”
Young noted that some campsites with electrical and other amenities could be used, and would fit trailer campers. About 15 can be offered initially, Young said.
“It would allow for greater social distancing for students who would have their own unit,” she said.
One of the largest questions to be addressed was whether to allow athletics and other co-curricular activities to restart. Young expressed that she believes not having these activities and programs, especially sports and choir, would be more detrimental to the students’ wellbeing than any potential health risks.
“I’ve heard of several schools that aren’t going to do athletics this year and I think it’s a terrible loss,” she said. “Look, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will have a student that has COVID-19. We’re going to have a staff member that’s going to have COVID-19 — it’s going to happen. But we have to decide what risks are and make decisions we personally are comfortable with. But to take a whole group of students out of our mix — I’m not willing to do that. These are typically underserved populations, and I don’t want them to lose a year.”
She noted that there has been great interest still in many of the co-curricular activities, including having 30 cheerleaders try-out virtually and similar reactions to Choir and Band try-outs.
Trustee Leon Forté said he recognizes what these opportunities represent to individuals, which is affordable at a small college such as Hocking.
“These co-curricular add vitality to the campus, but also help the students stay engaged,” Young said. “These co-curriculars are an essential part of college life and what we offer here.”
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Heather Willard is the Messenger Assistant Editor