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MATC to continue mostly online learning for spring semester, reports 25 COVID cases
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MATC | COVID-19 RESPONSE

MATC to continue mostly online learning for spring semester, reports 25 COVID cases

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Madison College health screener

MATC students must take a health survey and present a green "checkmark" clearing them of COVID-19 symptoms before coming onto campus.

Madison Area Technical College expects to follow the same playbook for the spring semester that it’s using this fall: most classes delivered online and students and employees completing a health survey before they enter campus buildings.

Officials at MATC, also known as Madison College, plan to keep roughly the same ratio of classes, with 70% delivered online, 5% taught in-person and 25% operating with a hybrid format in which some elements of the class take place face-to-face and others are delivered online.

Student registration for the spring semester began Monday.

Turina Bakken

Bakken

“We want to offer as much certainty to students and faculty as the uncertainty continues to exist,” provost Turina Bakken said in an interview. “We plan our spring so far ahead that we plan with what we know now, not what we wish would happen.”

Six weeks into the semester, MATC reports 25 COVID-19 cases from individuals who have been in a college building or at a clinical site, and none of which were confirmed to be transmitted while on campus, officials said.

Students interviewed on campus Tuesday said they felt safe coming to campus for classes because of the college’s COVID-19 protocols.

“I think they’re doing pretty well,” said Owen Johnson, who is finishing his last semester in the liberal arts program and plans to transfer to UW-Madison or UW-La Crosse next school year.

But at least one student said he would like to see more transparency from the college about its COVID-19 cases.

“I feel a little bit uncomfortable at times,” said Ramon Patino, a student in the auto collision repair program who recalled hearing about a case across the hallway from his classroom but said he did not receive any information from the college about it. “(Transparency) is my only big concern.”

Madison College Fall 2020

A sign on Madison Area Technical College's Truax campus informs students of COVID-19 protocols.

Madison College does not maintain a COVID-19 data dashboard. Officials provided MATC’s COVID-19 case count at the Wisconsin State Journal’s request.

Because the college isn’t running its own testing program and the vast majority of students aren’t on campus this semester, there isn’t a way to accurately portray the campus community’s COVID-19 rate, according to Mark Thomas, the college’s executive vice president of finance and administration. Instead, MATC directs students and staff to local health department data.

Thomas stressed that the college directly contacts anyone who may have come into contact with the virus. As soon as the college receives a positive test result, officials begin contact tracing. Even if they find there was minimal risk because all protocols were followed, everyone in the affected classroom is notified of the potential contact, allowing individuals to decide for themselves if they want to get tested.

If an affected classroom is determined to be higher risk — say, a law enforcement class in which class exercises put students into closer contact with each other — the college quarantines the entire class. Thomas said this has happened just a handful of times this semester.

Enrollment down

Nearly 12,000 students are enrolled at Madison College this fall, according to preliminary headcount figures. That represents a 9% decrease from last fall’s headcount of about 13,050 students.

A late-start campaign is underway to encourage students who didn’t register in time for the fall semester to sign up for a short eight-week course and stay on track toward their degrees, Bakken said. The campaign also targets new students who may be looking to get a jump start on the programs they will start in the spring.

The state’s technical colleges typically see more students enrolling at their campuses during recessions, but that pattern hasn’t been evident during the pandemic and associated economic fallout.

“I think what we’re seeing now … is a delayed recovery,” Bakken said. “Frankly, people are dealing with so many other barriers in their life — social justice, economic worries, kids at home. They’re worried about their own health and that of their family. There’s too many variables right now that normally would bring them back to us sooner.”

Community college enrollment has fared the worst in year-to-year college enrollment, according to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report published last month. While public, four-year universities saw a 0.4% drop in undergraduate enrollment from this time last year, community colleges report a 7.5% decline.

Madison College’s decline is coming from fewer new students, not a drop in returning students, according to Tim Casper, vice president of institutional learning and effectiveness.

The percentage of students continuing from the spring semester into the fall actually increased from 70% in 2019 to 72% this year, which Casper attributed to significant college outreach encouraging students to re-enroll. But the percentage of admitted students who enrolled dipped from 64% to 56%.

Other campuses

Spring plans are also taking shape at UW-Madison and Edgewood College.

UW-Madison plans to operate in a hybrid format with some courses taking place online and others delivered face-to-face, provost John Karl Scholz told a faculty committee on Monday. The university is still working through the specific ratio of remote and in-person instruction that will be offered. Classes with 50 or more students will remain online.

A formal announcement on the spring semester will come within the next few weeks, UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said.

Edgewood College plans to mirror its fall semester format, spokesman Ed Taylor said. Residence halls will remain open and the college will continue giving students and instructors the option to take or teach classes in-person or online.


Photos: Madison College-Goodman South Campus groundbreaking ceremony

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