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PCC gets ready for fall return

Gale Rose
Gannett reporter
Pratt Community College gets ready to welcome a new class of students to higher education, with pandemic precautions under consideration.

After weeks of uncertainty, Pratt Community College is getting some positive enrollment numbers for summer and fall.

Lisa Perez-Miller, vice president for student enrollment, said credit hour production for the academic year was 4.7 percent below the same period last year. Just a month ago, it was down 30 percent. Summer school credit hours are up nine percent from a year ago. Fall credit hours are down eight percent from a year ago but they were down 12 percent just a week prior.

While credit hours are lower, they are moving upward and that is good news for PCC.

“This is good news. We’re trending in the right direction,” said PCC President Michael Calvert.

Calvert remains cautiously optimistic about enrollment numbers. Historically, when unemployment is up, college enrollment tends to go up. Final enrollment numbers could be higher than last year. They could also be lower. The situation is very changeable, so its difficult to make an accurate prediction on enrollment.

Residence hall occupancy is at 61 percent. Wojciechowski Hall, North Hall and Scholarship Hall are full. Three apartments in Wojciechowski Hall have been blocked out for isolation and quarantine if necessary, Miller said.

In the mean time, PCC campus will reopen on July 6. Employees are coming back and some office staff will run in rotation.

To increase health safety on campus, a new filtration system that incorporates negative ions will be installed in campus buildings with the residence halls getting the first system. The negative ions attack the virus so it can’t duplicate and than is caught in a filter. Cost for the residence hall system is $40,000.

Other safety features are foggers, face masks, increase in disinfectant products, an addition of 100 more sanitizers that is $6,000 just for the sanitizers. Plexiglas shields have been installed for staff that have to work closely with students as is used in the Beaver Bites Cafe. Face masks will provided for all visitors, faculty and staff. Some office workers will be required to wear masks.

“We highly recommend they wear them,” Calvert said.

A Return to Campus Task Force has been developing guidelines for campus operations of the college. Task force members represent instruction, finance and operations, student enrollment management, athletics, presidents office and staff senate. They met in May and June (several times) with a meeting scheduled for July 9 to determine how to utilize Federal, state and local guidelines, ensure health safety is the top priority for everyone on campus and in the community, provide high quality eduction for online, video conferencing, hybrid and face to face learning, identifying the needs, risks, liabilities and expectations of campus operations and business continuity.

All summer classes are being offered on-line or have Zoom in each classroom. Classes are scheduled to start Aug. 19. Classes will meet in rotation. While 10 students come to class live, the rest will attend on-line. The next time the class meets, a different 10 will come to class live and the rotation will continue throughout the year.

On-campus classes will conclude at Thanksgiving break when all students will have to leave the campus. The remainder of each class will be done through Zoom online learning.

The goal for this rotation system is to provide a safe environment for students, faculty, staff and the community, Calvert said.

College finances are looking good for now. Revenue is $76,000 above budget. While tuition and ad valorem taxes are under budget, revenue from motor vehicle taxes, delinquent taxes and miscellaneous revenue are all above budget. With the campus closed, expenditures are lower than budgeted so overall, total revenue is above prediction, said Kent Adams, vice president of Finance and operations.

A decrease of 10 percent in state funding is expected but the exact amount is uncertain. An increase in insurance costs is certain to about $205,000 that is about a 25 percent increase from last year. The college has requested bids for insurance, Adams said.

While no one wants to have an increase in the mil levy, Adams suggested it might make sense to have a decision ready if it becomes necessary.

When the students return to classes on campus, they are going to find some new equipment. The PCC Trustees approved $72,000 for the purchase of 60 Dell computers at $1,200 apiece. Funding is through a vocational outlay grant with a 50 percent institutional match, Adams said.

The modified PCC Scholarship auction fell just short of matching last years top total that was best in auction history. Barry Fisher, Foundation executive director, said the auction brought in $57,513, just over $4,000 less than last year. The auction attracted 170 bidders from 43 communities and five states. Expenses were down 10 percent from last year since the auction was online, Fisher said.

Exactly how all this is going to play out is unknown. The situation some times changes daily or even hourly. Making specific plans is difficult.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity out there. The situation is not certain,” Calvert said. “A lot of people want firm answers and we can’t give them to you.”