An end of in-person classes before Thanksgiving and a contract for a new digital learning management program were among COVID-19 response items State Technical College of Missouri’s Board of Regents approved Friday.
State Tech’s budget for next year, also approved Friday, has largely escaped a major hit from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
State Tech Chief Financial Officer Jenny Jacobs said the college’s budget for 2021 anticipates a loss of state appropriations equal to budget withholds in 2020 — approximately $769,000.
The only effects from the anticipated state funding loss would ultimately be some reductions in discretionary budgets and the elimination of a couple vacant positions — no layoffs and no pay cuts, Jacobs said.
Gov. Mike Parson has yet to approve a state budget for next year, and that budget will determine the extent of colleges’ and universities’ financial hits in the fall — as well as what enrollment looks like.
State Tech’s enrollment is projected to be at healthy level for the fall, despite the pandemic.
Vice President of Student Affairs Chris Bowser said 1,163 new incoming students are enrolled for the fall, 600 second-year students are registered to return, and there are an anticipated 120 dual credit-enrolled students. Together, that’s more students than the enrollment goal of 1,850, and Bowser was cautiously optimistic it would be another record year for enrollment.
The rate of students who have already said they’re not coming in the fall is a little higher than usual — 13 percent, compared to the historic level of 8 percent — but Bowser was not too concerned.
In anticipation of possible disruptions to on-campus classes due to COVID-19, the Board of Regents approved a revised calendar for the fall semester that will hold student orientation earlier in August, end the first half of the semester earlier in October than originally planned and finish in-person classes before Thanksgiving — with online finals to begin by Dec. 15.
If all goes according to that plan, the fall semester will begin Aug. 24, after orientation Aug. 23, and winter break will begin Dec. 16, with the college closed Dec. 17.
The Board of Regents also approved a more than $186,000 three-year contract to have Canvas be the college’s digital learning management platform, replacing Moodle — due to the cost of upgrades, an inability to meet the demands of an expected increased in enrollment, and because COVID-19 could force classes to be offered online again, as most were this spring.
Chief of Staff Amy Ames said State Tech hopes to use federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to pay for the first-year costs of switching to Canvas, as well as for the first-year costs of the document management system, Softdocs, that the board approved switching to — the latter being a five-year, almost $374,800 contract.
The first-year cost for Canvas will be $99,884 and approximately $137,000 for Softdocs.
The choice to update furniture in the campus’ residential cottages for students was not driven by COVID-19 — having been decided in October — but Bowser told the board Friday the 144 beds that will now be loft-style instead of bunk beds will help maintain social distancing while students sleep, as they will be 13 feet apart if the beds are left on opposite sides of a room.
Another change students will notice in the fall is that State Tech will be a tobacco-free campus starting July 1 — not a new policy change but one that will be here next week.
The previous policy allowed for smoking or use of other tobacco products in designated outdoor areas, but the policy effective July 1 prohibits use of tobacco — including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco — on all State Tech property except for the Osage Country Club.
Four proposed new academic programs will not be available for this fall, but the Board of Regents did give approval for State Tech to pursue implementing them: an associate of science in business; agribusiness and digital marketing options for the existing business administration associate of applied science degree; and an associate of applied science degree in civil construction technology.