Nearly three-fourths of classes at Madison Area Technical College will be delivered completely online this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, President Jack Daniels announced Wednesday.
To accommodate the many programs teaching hands-on skills, 23% of classes will be a mix of online and in-person instruction. Just 7% of classes, mostly in the construction, advanced manufacturing, transportation and other technical fields, will be offered fully face to face.
And like UW-Madison and several other institutions across the state, MATC plans to end face-to-face courses by Thanksgiving and move all instruction entirely online in the last few weeks of the semester.
Of course, flexibility is key in the pandemic era. MATC, also known as Madison College, is prepared to pivot to completely online instruction earlier in the semester if COVID-19 cases continue to surge.
What level of infection would warrant making that call? Daniels said there is no specific threshold and it would depend on the overall health of the community and guidance from local health officials.
“Health and safety is obviously our top priority,” he said in an interview.
Anyone coming to campus is required to complete a health questionnaire at least an hour before arriving at the college. Students and staff must wear masks. Plexiglas will surround front desks and welcome centers. There will be “constant cleaning” of facilities.
Financial losses to date, along with estimated expenses for the fall, top $9 million — roughly 6% of the college’s annual budget, Daniels said.
A few hundred students already returned to campus in late spring and over the summer to complete training that cannot be replicated online, providing a window into potential pitfalls that in-person instruction may pose in the fall.
But Daniels said few, if any, problems were reported. There were no defiant students refusing to wear a mask. Spaced-out furniture reminded everyone to keep their physical distance.
College leaders are still working through barriers associated with online classes, such as limited internet access or difficulty learning online amid all of the other disruptions COVID-19 has caused.
The average Madison College student is 27 years old, Daniels said. Some have been laid off from their jobs because of the coronavirus. Others are parents waiting to hear how the Madison School District will operate this fall.
The college expects to loan at least 1,000 laptop computers to students in need this fall. It also has Wi-Fi hotspots on hand for those with broadband barriers, a problem in the northern Reedsburg area of the college’s district. Computer labs will be opened up for students who cannot focus at home or need technological assistance.
“We’re providing every bit of supplemental support for those students that we can,” Daniels said. “It’s not just the devices but the support to go along with it.”
Because course development for the spring semester wraps up by the end of September, he expects the spring semester to “closely mirror” the fall term.
While some community colleges across the country reported upswings in students withdrawing this spring, Daniels said there was little difference at MATC compared with past years.
Summer enrollment, more than 90% of which was offered online, was 1% above summer 2019.
Fall enrollment numbers are still in flux, he said. The college is seeing a double-digit decrease in enrollment, but that’s much smaller than the decline the college saw a month ago.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Daniels said.
Starting this week, students will be able to look at the semester’s course offerings and corresponding mode of instruction, which he said will solidify enrollment commitments for many of them.
Classes start Aug. 31.