College of Marin students who dropped out during the pandemic now have a big incentive to come back this fall – a check for $ 2,000 they can take straight to the bank.
The school, which lost 413 credit students – or about 8.4% – during 2020-2021, is using some of its federal coronavirus relief money to provide direct financial assistance to low-income students who have may have had economic stress in the past a year and a half.
“The macro reason is the pandemic,” said Jonathan Eldridge, COM vice president, of the need for assistance checks. “Within that you have people who have lost their jobs or had to change jobs – and it has impacted their ability to take courses.”
The checks, which will come from federal relief funds intended for direct aid, should help working students reduce or reschedule their hours so they can take more classes, he said.
“We also had a good number of people who, when we converted online, didn’t like it or struggled with the online format,” Eldridge said.
According to Eldridge, at least 50% of 2021-22 courses will be in-person – either entirely or as a hybrid of in-person and distance education. Masks will likely be required for all students and staff inside, regardless of their immunization status, he added.
“Our intention is, for the spring semester, to resume our normal operations,” Eldridge said. “This means that if we offer online courses, it will be because we want to and there is a demand for it, rather than because we have to do it due to the pandemic.”
Eldridge’s comments came after Tuesday’s COM board meeting where enrollment incentives and the school’s 2021-22 budget were in the foreground.
College of Marin president David Wain Coon told administrators the school finished 2020-2021 with a much higher than expected fund balance. He said this was due to roughly $ 6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds that came in, combined with less spending overall, as classes were canceled or downsized and some staff to part-time workers were made redundant.
Wain Coon said the college has forecast a final balance of $ 7.3 million for 2020-2021 – nearly 10% of the school’s roughly $ 75 million operating budget. Instead, the fund balance stood at $ 9.7 million, or about 14% of the spending plan.
“We are very fortunate to have received assistance from the Federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to help us offset the lost income we have suffered and the expenses incurred related to the pandemic,” Wain said. Coon later.
“I think the district is in a good position to recover strongly from the unprecedented experience of the pandemic,” he added. “I am proud of the faculty, staff and students for the way they responded and persevered through it all. “
Wain Coon recommends that the college take about $ 5 million from the closing fund balance and “reinvest” it in the operating budget. Approximately $ 2 million would be used to increase the college’s reserve funds, a 3% increase in the reserve fund, which was 23.7% of the budget at the end of 2020-21.
It also recommends that another million dollars go to technology reserves, and $ 500,000 be set aside for the potential operating costs of the new Miwok Aquatic and Fitness Center, which is scheduled to open on campus in September. from Indian Valley to Novato. The remaining funds from the $ 5 million reinvestment would go into other programs, Wain Coon said.
Board chairman Wanden Treanor said it was good to have a substantial “catastrophic natural disaster” reserve fund that could put the public college at risk.
“For many years, I warned that in the event of a major earthquake, many homeowners would come to the assessor’s office to reduce their property taxes until the houses were rebuilt, which could have an immediate impact on our budget, ”Treanor said later.
“We now know that a major forest fire could produce the same effect,” she added. “As a result, we have been and will continue to be good stewards of this precious community resource. Our commitment to increase reserves is just one example.
COM faculty administrator Paul da Silva said he was “very impressed” with the college’s response to the pandemic under the leadership of Wain Coon.
“He successfully met not only the challenge of dealing with the uncertainty caused by the virus itself, but also the complexity of the requirements for receiving different types of state and federal aid,” da Silva said. in an email.
“I think COM has done a better job than our society as a whole in recognizing the interdependence of aspects of life that are often seen as separate – education, health care, nutrition, work, housing and access to life technology. ‘modern information,’ he added.
“Whether we like it or not, the pandemic has sparked a revolution in education,” da Silva said. “I hope we can all do our best to make sure this is positive.”
Eldridge, meanwhile, said the college was working hard to publicize the availability of $ 2,000 checks and the increase in in-person classes. A mailing was sent earlier this month to approximately 6,500 addresses, with more mailings expected closer to the start of the school year.
During the pandemic, the college provided emergency grants and other direct aid to students of the first two federal stimulus packages. Now, with the third stimulus package – this one as part of the Biden administration’s US bailout – the school has around $ 3 million to pay direct aid students for the fall, has t -he declares.
“Low-income students who are already enrolled will receive a grant of $ 2,000, in addition to any local, federal or private assistance available to them,” he said. “We are also working with (the local non-profit association) 10,000 Degrees on a marketing campaign aimed at all of the students who have been with us in the past but have not yet registered for the fall.”
Final registration numbers for the fall were not yet available as registrations continue. The college in 2019-2020 had approximately 12,500 students enrolled in degree, community education and certificate programs for both semesters, according to its website at marin.edu.
The College of Marin fall semester begins August 23.