Students considering local college options during uncertain times

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

In May, states will begin to emerge, cautiously I hope, from shelter-in-place and stay-at-home directives. We expect businesses can reopen incrementally and by mid-summer the COVID-19 crisis will be in the rear-view mirror.

Even with that best-case scenario, national health experts advise that at least variations on physical distancing and other preventive, virus-spreading precautions will be with us at least until a vaccine for the novel COVID-19 is widely available.

With that in mind, colleges and universities across the country are working on plans addressing a range of potential situations going into the fall term. Can their students live in residence halls? Can in-person classes be held? What will the physical campus look like as far as student accessibility? How quickly will the economy bounce back?

In the midst of uncertain times, many students are looking at local options for higher education. Wilmington College recognizes the anxiety experienced by many students and their families, and wants to offer special opportunities for current college students interested in staying closer to home.

During the 2019-20 academic year, 128 Clinton County students have attended Wilmington College. Many are enjoying the cost-savings that comes from commuting from home while still enjoying, in addition to outstanding academics, many of the amenities available outside the classroom, such as intercollegiate athletics, leadership development opportunities, student organizations and short-term study trips.

I’ve mentioned the College’s Clinton County Succeeds (CCS) program in previous columns. It’s a loan-to-grant program in which up to $10,000 in loans can be forgiven upon a student’s graduation from WC.

While until now it has been available exclusively to new graduates of local high schools and Southern State Community College, we are now giving transfer students who qualify a special opportunity to take advantage of CCS’ financial incentives.

This is specifically for those local students who started at another college since fall 2018, and transfer to Wilmington College, first enrolling either this coming fall semester or in January 2021.

Also, financial accommodations, including entry into the CCS program, are available for transfer students who are displaced from Urbana University, which recently announced its permanent closure.

Of course, CCS remains an important option for 2020 graduates of Wilmington, Blanchester, Clinton-Massie and East Clinton high schools, Wilmington Christian Academy, and graduates who are Clinton County residents that were home-schooled or attended schools outside the county, and non-residents who attended Clinton County schools.

These opportunities for transfer students are a component of the College’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, Others directly involve current students.

WC students were on spring break, March 9-13, when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the State Dept. of Public Safety asked college presidents to suspend on-campus teaching and gatherings through the end of that month. Soon, that directive led to distance learning and closing the physical campus for the remainder of the semester.

As such, Wilmington College established a plan for students to return to campus in late March to gather their belongings from residence halls. It featured an innovative, automatic check-out component similar to that used at hotels in order to minimize close interaction with staff members.

The exodus was carefully orchestrated so large numbers were not on campus at any one time, which provided for physical distancing and other safety precautions.

However, for a number of students, many from other states and countries, and some for whom returning to their family situation was problematic or even prohibitive, simply packing their belongings and going home was easier said than done.

The College allowed those students to stay on campus while they found the increasingly rare flights out of the country or made other provisions for moving out.

It established the Student Emergency Fund, through gifts from generous alumni and friends, that provided for giving those stranded students gifts cards for food while also supplying them with bottled water, paper products and cleaning supplies for keeping their living space clean and free of the virus.

The fund also provided for renting vans for transportation to airports and even helped an especially anxious student with car repairs so the student could go home to family.

Once the distance learning began in full force March 30, it became apparent that not all students had equal access to the needed tools for receiving instruction. The College found ways

to help them stay on track with their studies by providing laptop computers and personal Internet access sources.

In April, the College notified residential students it would refund a portion of their spring room and board payments.

Also, realizing that many students rely on campus employment to supplement their incomes, WC made every attempt to accommodate interested students whose campus jobs could be accomplished remotely from home by keeping them employed at the College throughout the spring semester and, possibly, even this summer.

As part of the federal government’s CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) initiative, the College expects to receive funds it can administer to students that have been the most adversely affected financially by the pandemic.

While faculty members are serving their students through distance learning vehicles, the College’s support staff and administration have been working remotely and remain accessible to address students’ needs.

Granted, these are challenging times for all of us. Be safe and look for opportunities that will help ensure your bright future.

With just over 1,000 students on a 1,248-acre campus (including land for our equine and agriculture programs) in a safe rural community, Wilmington College offers plenty of opportunities to practice physical distancing.

Dennis Kelly is senior vice president/chief enrollment officer at Wilmington College. A nationally known enrollment administrator, he has consulted and presented extensively on higher education and post-graduation career choices.

Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist