SMC Board of Trustees updated on COVID-19

DOWAGIAC — At its regular monthly meeting, conducted remotely Monday night via Zoom, the Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees heard from Dr. Joe Odenwald about the steps being taken to comply with the latest state orders regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on Sunday that face-to-face instruction for the majority of college courses must be suspended effective Wednesday.

SMC had announced in mid-October that a shift of almost all learning to a remote format would begin Nov. 20 and for the remainder of the fall term, so now the shift will be effective two days earlier on Nov. 18 through the end of the semester on Friday, Dec. 18.

In his president’s report, Odenwald noted there have been 47 confirmed coronavirus cases in the SMC community since fall semester began Sept. 8, with four students currently isolated off-campus and four students isolated on campus.

“We’ve been fortunate to catch campus cases early,” Odenwald said, “and to keep it under control. There’s not a single incident we’ve had in the last 10-plus weeks where we’ve had students get COVID because they’re in a classroom. We’ve made it work with all the cleaning and separating we’ve done, but the virus is prevalent in the wider community.

“We made a decision about four weeks ago to move back to remote learning because we could see what was likely to happen in colder weather, and our prediction just missed by a couple of days.”

Regarding enrollment trends, “Rather than look backward, we’re trying to look forward with a goal of where we want to go,” Odenwald said. “We have a goal for spring of 1,550 students, including 430 dual-enrolled or Early College students. We’re at almost 74 percent in that segment, so those are coming in well. For new students, there are a couple of orientations happening in December/January. Right now, we’re sitting at 939 overall. That number a week ago was 815, so we had a pretty strong run, and we’ll continue to enroll students right up until the start of classes on Jan. 25.”

In other business, a review of quarterly financial reports through Sept. 30 showed the college budgeted for 16 percent less in state aid than last year’s $7.2 million figure. With an updated expectation that all allocated state aid will be received, that means $1.1 million more than anticipated when the budget was finalized in June.

The board acknowledged 10 gifts to the SMC Foundation totaling $40,600. The board also accepted 55 gifts to the college totaling $15,705, including a number for the cross country Recruiting Gallery project and from the Cass County 100+ Women Who Care for the Roadrunner Kitchen food pantry.

“SMC is so fortunate to have many continuous and generous donors to the college.  Each month these gifts are truly a blessing that furthers scholarships and changes students’ lives,” said board chair Tom Jerdon.

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