SMC Board of Trustees adjusts tuition, discusses graduation

DOWAGIAC — The Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees adopted the tuition and fee schedule for the 2021-2022 fiscal year during its regular monthly meeting conducted Feb. 10 via Zoom.

Tuition increases $1.25 to $126.75 per contact hour (1 percent) for in-district students, $1.75 to $166.50 (1.1 percent) for in-state students, $1.75 to $181.25 (1 percent) for out-of-state students and $2.00 to $210.00 (1 percent) for international students. Registration fees are adjusted 25 cents to $23.00 (1.1 percent) and technology fees are adjusted 25 cents to $31.25 (0.8 percent).

The tuition cost increase for 2021-2022 will be offset by significantly-increased scholarship offerings, trustees said.

“We will budget for all new students within the district a certain level of scholarship,” President Dr. Joe Odenwald said.

This new offering will be detailed in the near future.

The board addresses tuition each February to provide certainty to students who begin registering for summer and fall classes on March 24.

Dual-enrollment tuition remains unchanged again at a total cost of $175.25 per hour.

“From year-to-year, we have increases in our operating costs for things like utilities, security services, faculty and staff, and technology licenses. Our philosophy has always been to manage those with smaller, incremental increases,” Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon said. “So many community colleges keep tuition flat for multiple years, then budget woes arrive later on resulting in a large increase to catch up, which is very unfair for the families who happen to enroll that year.”

Housing charges will remain unchanged for the second year, as well as for summer semester.

“By any measurement, SMC is very affordable as compared to the rest of higher education,” said Jerdon.

In other business, SMC continues to explore arranging graduates by school for three outdoor commencement ceremonies in Alumni Plaza in mid-May.

“It will probably wind up being Friday and Saturday, May 14-15,” Odenwald said of preliminary plans. “We would do one Friday afternoon and two on Saturday, which would allow a limited number of guests to come in masks, with seating spread out. All 53 of our faculty will not have to be here, crammed together at one time.”

“We feel this is the best compromise we can provide to celebrate the accomplishments of the classes of 2020 and 2021,” the president said. “If it happens to rain, we might have a backup date on Friday, May 21. If conditions again were such that we had to cancel, we would go back to a virtual or drive-in option, but the administration’s opinion is we absolutely need to have a live, in-person graduation.”

In his president’s report, Odenwald discussed how SMC continues to look at new ways to recruit students.

Odenwald also affirmed that the college is weathering the pandemic in a strong financial position.

An original projection of 120 new students actually became 180 for spring, bolstered by the state’s Futures for Frontliners program.

Odenwald said the rapid COVID testing conducted as students moved into residence halls for spring semester proved very successful.

“We had no positives out of more than 230 tests, and we really appreciate the students taking safety protocols seriously,” he said. “So far this spring, the balanced mix of courses – 20 percent fully online, about 30 percent traditional in seats and the rest running as hybrids – has taken some pressure off campus personnel.”

Trustees accepted three gifts to the college, including $20,000 from St. Denys Foundation of Dowagiac and $5,000 from Susan Watson of Cassopolis, and acknowledged 24 donations to the SMC Foundation totaling $10,055.

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