Alexandria Technical and Community College has been implementing suggested COVID-19 protocols in order for students to return to campus.

The college allowed second-year law enforcement students to return to campus for a week to fulfill the skills training needed to graduate. All eligible students returned to finish their degree requirements with no health-related issues reported.

A separate program for law enforcement skills training began June 1. ATCC normally sees around 130 students come through this program, but they capped it at 75 this year to maintain social distancing.

Welding students should be able to return to campus July 6.

ATCC President Michael Seymour looks forward to the fall, knowing that returning to in-person instruction is essential for many technical programs.

“College is an experience – it’s not entirely about earning a credential,” Seymour wrote in a May column. “We may not convince all students to attend this fall, but we can assure the ones that do we are doing everything we can to keep them safe.”

Students transition back

In preparation for fall semester, the college will be implementing a high-flux delivery model. This will allow classes to be held face-to-face while simultaneously being streamed remotely through Zoom, so students can choose which method they prefer.

Lectures will be a smoother transition to an online format, as it will be similar to what was used this spring, said Vice President of Academic Affairs Gregg Raisanen, but hands-on labs will be more difficult to hold virtually. ATCC may add additional class sections so that fewer students will be in a room at a time.

In common areas, students are encouraged to wear masks. The college’s current online tutoring services will continue, and half of the chairs in the cafeteria and library will be removed. Students will be advised to sanitize and wipe down any desks, computers or other equipment before they use it.

Employees will be asked to assist in making sure students follow social distancing. The campus is also limiting the number of accessible doors so they can keep track of visitors and inform them of the campus guidelines.

“The main message is we are open and ready to welcome our students,” Raisanen said.

Schools roll with the punches

The months of uncertainty about whether or not schools would resume face-to-face teaching in the fall caused statewide enrollment to decrease, according to Seymour. In May, ATCC’s enrollment was also down nearly 10 percent. Online enrollment has seen an increase, but overall enrollment has declined.

Fall registration for ATCC started the second week of June, so the college is waiting to draw any conclusions on how the nation’s current situation will affect their enrollment numbers.

“Right now, I would say it’s too early to tell,” said Vice President of Advancement and Outreach Jeff Wild.

This possible change in enrollment will mostly affect the college’s financials. Tuition dollars make up about half of the institution’s income. For public schools, the rest comes from the state.

Undergraduate tuition will freeze for fall semester across the Minnesota State System, which is made up of 37 colleges and universities. A three percent increase will be put in place for spring 2021 tuition in order to promote long-term sustainability, according to a Minnesota State System press release.

ATCC has been communicating with the Minnesota State System, the CDC and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to monitor existing recommendations as well as new protocols.

On ATCC’s campus, an administrative team, safety coordinator and faculty leaders meet regularly to discuss new protocols for the fall.

University of Minnesota Board of Regents President Joan Gabel suggested a framework for state schools, which included resuming in-person instruction and re-opening residence halls, dining facilities and other campus services in a way that’s consistent with public health guidelines. The University of Minnesota also formed the Fall 2020 Scenarios Advisory Team to further explore how to safely resume campus spaces and activities.

“As has been the case throughout the University’s response to COVID-19, flexibility is the backbone of this plan,” a University of Minnesota press release stated.

ATCC’s national and state rating

ATCC ranks number two in the state and 20 across the nation for best online community college, according to the Guide to Online Schools, an online resource to help students in their decision making process. This ranking was made based on retention rate, number of online associate degrees offered and online enrollment percentage. ATCC offers 14 online associate degrees.