COVID-19 prompts administration to hold town hall for parent questions

Photo courtesy of the Simpson website.

Photo courtesy of the Simpson website.

by Morgan Flynn, Staff reporter

Simpson College administrators held a town hall on April 15th in an effort to address parent questions in real-time via Zoom.

Around 50 participants took part in the town hall. Answering questions from parents were Vice President for Student Development & Planning Heidi Levine, Vice President of Admissions Deb Tierney and Chief Financial Officer Cathy Hoch. Executive Director of Marketing and Public Relations Christie Denniston was facilitating the conversation and receiving questions from parents. During the hour-long town hall, many questions were asked regarding a wide variety of topics. 

For those unable to make it, the recording of the town hall can be found here. Administrators say that there is a possibility for other town halls being held in the future for various groups such as students. 

Some of the most significant questions from the parent town hall are highlighted below.

Q: Have funds from reimbursements been dispersed to accounts for next fall?

A: Room and board refunds have been applied to student accounts. Students received direction to go to SC Connect and indicate whether they wanted those funds to be held on their account to pay for to help pay for their fall bill or if they wanted a check cut to them for any credit balance. That was something that students would have done by the end of March, so if your student did not do that, then we automatically are going to issue a check that will be sent to the home address. Those will be sent out this Friday (4/17). 

Q: Will there be additional financial aid opportunities available to students for fall 2020?

A: Well, I think many may be familiar with the Cares Act that was enacted that provides relief for multiple sectors of the economy coping with the impact of COVID-19; this includes students as well as colleges and universities. We will be receiving funding, but we are currently awaiting additional guidance from the Department of Education of how those funds can be distributed, and we do have a working group addressing this now we’ll be meeting throughout next week. We will most likely have an application that students will use to apply for this additional funding, but we will certainly share more information as we finalize our plans. We’re hoping to do that as soon as possible.

Q: What are your plans for graduation, and will there be an in-person ceremony?

A: We are fully committed to holding a commencement ceremony that honors our spring 2020 graduates. The harder question to answer at this point is when that will be. There are a lot of different options that we are looking at, and now that we are on campus past that point of getting our classes going again and dealing with registration, we’re starting to have a little bit more of a sense of how this illness will continue to proceed. We are assembling a small group that is going to be looking at what those options for different times of the year would be and what the logistics would be for creating a commencement opportunity for our spring graduates. We’re also looking at continuing to hold our annual baccalaureate at about the same time that we normally would in the spring the evening before commencement. That’s going to happen this spring and will be virtual, so there will be some opportunity to recognize our graduates now as they’re finishing up their programs, but we will have that chance to come together and celebrate face to face at some point later in the year.

Q: With potential future financial constraints, do you see any further program downsizing?

A: That is not something that we are discussing right now. 

Q: With the uncertainty of fall, have there been any discussions related to whether or not classes will be held in person for fall 2020?

A: We are just starting to have those conversations, so it’s hard to predict what is going to be happening in August. But, we know that we need to start looking ahead and having a contingency plan in case the fall is not looking like it would be safe to bring everybody back to campus. Those conversations are just starting up now. I expect that in the early summer we will have a better handle on what the fall is looking like and what the plans are. We’ll certainly be sharing that information out with our students and with all of you as quickly as we know what those plans are.

Q: If the decision is made to move to an online format for fall, would there be any discounting of tuition?

A: That is something that we will have to determine as we get closer to that time. We know that’s a discussion that we will have to have, but it is not a discussion that we have had yet.

Q: If campus is closed for the summer and fall, how will students be able to continue to access library resources?

A: Many of our library resources are electronic, so there’s a lot that they’re able to access regardless of where they work. Our librarians have been working with students as well as staff and faculty so that if people need some kind of resource that they would have to get physically from the library, they are making arrangements to get that to them.

Q: Were refunds for room and board the same amount for everyone or where they figured out based on how many unused meals and flex each student had left? 

A: Meal refunds were made based on the meal plan that the student had. It did not take into account how many boards had been used or how many flex dollars had been used. It simply took what the charge for that meal plan was, and we prorated the percentage that the student would not be on campus and able to use that meal plan. 

Q: When will we know about the availability of summer housing?

A: That is among those other conversations that are ongoing right now, and we expect that over the next few weeks, we’ll be making decisions. I feel pretty comfortable saying that, at the very least, we will continue approaching summer housing as we have housing for those students who are still living on campus right now. One of the criteria for allowing students to remain on campus was that they were in an internship or some other experience that required them to remain in this area; this home was not in the Des Moines metro.

Q: Will pass/fail options will be a possibility for summer and fall?

A: So I know that they will be for May term, but I am not sure about summer or fall. To some extent, it depends on how the course is designed. Courses that are offered pass/fail that are built into the actual design of the class. There may be faculty who are looking at that for the future, but I would strongly suspect that we would not be moving toward a predominantly or largely pass/fail option for the regular semester.