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Board approves 2021-22 budget, purchase of properties

The Pennsylvania College of Technology Board of Directors on Thursday approved a $157.3 million college budget for 2021-22 calling for no increase in tuition and fees or in the rates charged to students for on-campus housing and meal plans.

The board also authorized the purchase of two properties at 218 Park St. and 971 Second St. in Williamsport and heard presentations on the new LEAP (Learning, Evolving, Adapting, Preparing) Center and the college’s ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response.

Thursday's Board of Directors meeting encapsulated for college communityIn addition, the board ratified its previous unanimous-consent action for the hiring of Jeff Brown as vice president for information technology/chief information officer, who officially begins his duties July 12.

The approved budget, which includes a flat state appropriation of $26.7 million, represents an increase in spending of less than 1% over 2020-21. The state appropriation accounts for 17% of the total budget and 24% of the operating budget, which is $112.7 million for 2021-22.

A full-time Pennsylvania resident student enrolled for two 15-credit semesters in 2021-22 will again pay a total of $17,610 in tuition and fees. Nonresident students will again pay $25,170 for their tuition and fees.

Suzanne T. Stopper, senior vice president for finance/CFO, said the pandemic had a significant impact on 2021-22 budget planning.

“COVID equates to uncertainty,” Stopper told the board, adding that the administration’s decision to not raise tuition and fees – as well as the rates charged for on-campus housing and meal plans – came from the recognition that “people suffered a lot” financially during the pandemic.

Her sentiments were echoed by President Davie Jane Gilmour.

“This is not the easiest budget we have ever brought to you,” she said, adding that many signs – including an increase in the pool of transfer students – point to better times ahead as the pandemic winds down.

“We’re optimistic about it,” she said.

The two adjacent parcels the board approved for purchase (one is a vacant lot) are in significant disrepair, Gilmour said, with one structure that has been unoccupied for some time. The college has no immediate plans for the properties.

The presentation on the LEAP Center, which will be housed on the first floor of the Student & Administrative Services Center, was made by Randy J. Zangara, dean of college transitions/first year initiatives. It will be a dedicated advising center (for first-year and transfer students) featuring current best practices for undergraduate retention.

The center, Zangara said, will be relationship-focused and will include collaboration from LEAP advisers, academic advisers, Student Engagement and the academic school offices. Student retention is the main focus, he said, but it is anticipated that recruitment will benefit, as well.

Activities planned include student outreach, participation in Visit Days and other Admissions events, first-semester scheduling and advising, small-group and individual meetings at several semester intervals, monitoring of early alert referrals, and study skills workshops.

Christie Kracker has been hired as director for the center; she begins her duties on June 23. The center officially launches July 1.

Anthony J. Pace, dean of academic operations and chair of the college’s COVID-19 task force, Victor, updated the board on Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 data, pre-return testing, adjustments and lessons learned, vaccination efforts, and changes in store for summer and fall.

For Fall 2020, there were 216 positive cases (168 students and 48 employees), 1,081 students in quarantine and 671 in isolation, and 2,601 meals were provided to students in quarantine or isolation. For Spring 2021, there were 218 positive cases (154 students and 64 employees), 575 students in quarantine and 527 in isolation, and 1,540 meals were provided to students in quarantine or isolation.

In both semesters, little or no classroom transmission of the virus was identified – “one of our primary goals,” Pace told the board.

He noted that approximately 950 students or employees have submitted proof of full vaccination to the college, and a total of 455 students/employees were vaccinated in on-campus clinics.

The college’s Continuity of Operations plan continues to be updated based on guidelines and information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The campus community’s compliance with those guidelines has enabled the college to remain open for in-person instruction on a sustained basis, Pace said.

Beginning Monday, fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks on campus, though they will be fully supported if they wish to continue doing so. Unvaccinated individuals must continue to mask indoors, though masks have not been required outdoors for anyone on campus since June 1.

Additionally, social distancing will no longer be enforced, classrooms will return to pre-COVID capacities, and there will be increased capacities in multipurpose spaces on campus, Pace told the board. Visitation to campus also resumes in many areas, and limited college-sponsored travel will be permitted. Dining units will continue to operate at reduced capacities, he added.

Masking indoors will remain for all unvaccinated individuals until a 70% vaccination rate is reached on campus, in order to avoid potential strain on the college’s isolation and quarantine resources, Pace said. College Health Services will continue to provide testing and contact tracing. A COVID-19 dashboard continues to provide daily data on testing and new cases to the campus community and will transition to Fall 2021 data on July 1.

In her comments to the board, Gilmour addressed the 12 successful in-person commencement ceremonies held in May; the stellar academic performance of the college’s 236 student-athletes; the exemplary seasons registered by the women’s softball, men’s golf and men’s lacrosse teams; the Baja SAE team’s best performance in 16 years of competition; the impending return of Pre-College Programs for students in grades 9-12; as well as career exploration sessions for middle school students.

In his closing remarks, Board Chairman Sen. Gene Yaw noted that a recent visit to campus by state Senate Education Committee Chairman Scott Martin was an excellent opportunity for Martin to experience firsthand the unique education offered at Penn College. “I think it’s really important,” Yaw said of the visit, which also included Sen. David Argall, chair of the Senate’s State Government Committee.

Yaw said he remains hopeful that a state budget can be passed by the Legislature before the June 30 deadline.

The next regularly scheduled Penn College Board of Directors meeting will be Aug. 5.

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