I hope this email finds you safe and well as we manage through some very uncertain times. The last few weeks have brought a great deal of change—often at just the time we think we can see the road immediately ahead of us. This in itself can be stressful, as we look for certainty in the midst of great instability.
My goal, shared by other leaders at ECC, is to protect your well-being, ensure a safe working environment, and provide the tools and flexibility needed to do your job and still manage everything else around you. I know it’s a lot, believe me.
We are committed to maintaining an open line of communication, which may mean multiple messages over a fairly short period of time as the circumstances warrant. I also want you to know the kinds of things being considered. This often occurs in nearly real time. It is important for you to know what’s on our radar.
But above all, I want you to be well.
In addition to my concern for employees, I am equally concerned about students through this chaotic time. Many are nearing the milestone of graduation. Others may be struggling under the best of circumstances, and now find themselves dangerously close to leaving college. We need to approach this from the standpoint of doing everything possible to enable students to keep moving forward. Let’s make it possible for them to persist. But we also need to listen to their needs and understand what matters most. Above all, if we do what’s right for the student, we’ll be doing what’s right.
At the emergency board meeting, trustees provided the authority to implement policies as needed to respond to this crisis. I intend to use that authority for the benefit of our employees and students.
The situation continues to evolve, and I want to update you about several specific items relating to the Novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. The leadership team met Monday for continued planning and decision-making while we ready for a limited reopening. An expanded group—including leadership from the employee groups—will meet again Thursday.
Some updated information as of this evening:
Third Stimulus (Federal CARES Act)—We continue to learn more about the provisions of the most recent stimulus act. This measure includes funding for higher education, as well as targeted regulatory relief intended to assist colleges and universities as we work through the semester. I took part in an AACC briefing this afternoon. There is roughly $12.558 billion that is expected to be disbursed directly to institutions. These funds will be distributed on a formula that is based 75% on a college’s Pell Grant enrollment, and 25% on non-Pell FTE. There are several models of the funding that have been produced. Our most recent estimate, as of this evening, provides for approximately $1.785 million for East Central College. Half of those funds are earmarked for “Emergency Financial Aid Grants” for students impacted by the Coronavirus. The other half is to provide relief to colleges who are facing (a) extraordinary costs as we respond to the pandemic, and (b) the likelihood of significant reductions in state aid as revenue declines due to decreased economic activity. We do not know at the moment when those funds will be distributed. We also know there will be additional funds distributed to the states, and then allocated to colleges by way of the Governor. We are actively working in Jefferson City to understand how these funds will be handled and to make sure community colleges such as East Central are treated fairly.
State Funding—We expect to hear tomorrow about the initial impact on the state’s economy. As of this writing, I do not know what that means in terms of funding, but it seems likely that withholding of a portion of our remaining state aid will occur. The impact will depend on the amount of any reduction, balanced by the increased funding we expect to receive in federal funds. We have also started to hear pessimistic projections about the upcoming fiscal year, and a likely decrease in higher education funding for FY21. This is much different from the opening of the session in January. I will update you as soon as more details become available.
Our Plans Next Week—We are scheduled to resume instruction on Monday, April 6, with nearly everything to be delivered via remote platforms. There is a very limited amount of instruction that may need to occur in person, but steps will be taken to both limit the number of students involved, and ensure appropriate social distancing occurs.
We originally intended to reopen the campus for essential services for students. Employees have the option of working from home with supervisory approval. We are actively reviewing whether the campus will be open at all next week, in light of federal, state, and local restrictions. At this point, employees who are able to work from home are highly encouraged to do so. We will decide before the end of the week whether circumstances warrant a full work-from-home posture for an extended period of time. We will also be in close contact with students, to make sure they understand what is available in terms of services and support.
Working From Home—Some positions lend themselves more readily than others to working from home. Be sure to talk to your supervisor about how your work can be accomplished from home. We will attempt to provide all of the resources necessary for this to occur. At the same time, we may need to use some employees in different capacities. I ask that you be open and flexible to this as we work through this time.
Rolla Facilities—We are working on plans to consolidate operations as much as possible to the Rolla North facility. This is due in part to the expectation that Rolla Main may not be available due to the school district’s schedule. That discussion will continue when we meet again Thursday. The city government in Rolla adopted a Stay-at-Home order last night. This will be impact our decisions regarding operations in Rolla, although educational institutions are deemed essential and allowed to remain open.
Leave Process—Also Thursday, we will finalize some specific procedures related to the use of Emergency Leave authorized by the Board of Trustees, Emergency Family Leave and Emergency Sick Leave authorized by Congress, and existing leave also available to employees. I realize there are lots of questions about how each form of leave applies and may be used. Watch for additional information by email and on the web page as this is finalized.
Deep Cleaning—Our facilities staff will be conducting a deep cleaning of the campus through the end of the week. Please be advised the campus will be largely inaccessible through Friday. If it is imperative to be on campus, please coordinate with Tot Pratt for a date/time that works for your building an office.
We decided several items related specifically related to students:
Drop Date—We are extending the student initiated withdrawal date to May 1. We want our students to have ample opportunity to work through the transition to remotely delivered instruction. Without this change, students would be faced with deciding within one week whether they will be able to navigate this change, or if they should drop.
- If a student wishes to drop a course he or she will first reach out to the faculty member by email. Faculty will have the opportunity to discuss course completion options.
- If the student requires resources such as emergency funds, tutoring, or other help in order to be successful, the faculty member is asked to make an AVISO retention referral.
- After the conversation with the student, if he or she still intends to drop, the faculty member will forward the email to the student’s advisor in AVISO with a summary of the conversation with the student, and the last date of attendance.
- The advisor will also follow up with the student and then forward to Sarah Scroggins. Email will be used, rather than the traditional drop form.
Incomplete: This option is already available to students. However, Sarah Scroggins indicated in our meeting earlier this week that fewer than half of students with an incomplete finish their contract. This results in an “F” on their transcript. This option should be considered very carefully. An additional six months may be added if it will assist the student with completion. Consideration of an incomplete should be discussed between the faculty member and his or her dean.
Additional Information for Faculty & Instructional Staff—If you have not reviewed it already, please see Vice President Robyn Walter’s email to faculty and instructional staff sent March 30. Some of the information has been covered here, but there are additional details and instructions related to instruction.
Payment Deadlines—Students will receive information about an extended deadline for payment for Summer 2020 classes. If necessary, we will revise the Fall Semester deadline that occurs this summer. We will also work with students to explore options such as the payment plan.
Emergency Grants—As mentioned above, at least half of the federal funds received must be used for Emergency Financial Aid Grants that we will distribute directly to students. As of this evening, we await more direction from the U.S. Department of Education regarding those grants. We will be sure students are quickly informed as more information becomes available.
Communication With Students: Students this week will receive a phone call this week from an ECC staff member. As we prepare to resume instruction, it is vital that we check in on their well-being, discuss concerns they may have, and determine what issues they may be facing when it comes to broadband or computer access. This is not a one-time contact. Throughout the semester, please make every effort to remain in close contact with students you teach or otherwise support. As stressful as these times are for us, they are equally concerning for many of our students. Moreover, for many ECC is a place of safety and stability. Now that place is being quickly and significantly changed. It is impossible to do too much to help them through this time.
Website—Be sure to visit the ECC Covid-19 response webpage. We will continue to add information to the site, including the FAQs for students and employees. This week we have added information related to both our health insurance and the PSRS/PEERS retirement systems.
I will have an additional update later this week. In the meantime, if you have specific questions or issues, please contact me or your Vice President.
Together, extraordinary work has occurred in a very short time. We all know there is much more to do, and the most difficult work may yet be ahead of us. Together, however, I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion.