Students enrolled in skills-based classes at Manhattan Area Technical College wrapped up their semester last week, having received authorization to return to in-person instruction at the beginning of May.
MATC is also starting renovations at its new Wamego-based high school facility and has had funds committed for its adult education program, alleviating some financial uncertainty for the college’s recently re-signed president.
Like all Kansas educational institutions, MATC closed its doors as numbers of COVID-19 cases began to rise nationally. But MATC provides hands-on skills training in multiple fields that President Jim Genandt — whose contract was recently extended through the end of 2022-2023 — says doesn’t translate to remote formats. According to Genandt, general education and lecture courses were online but students in 8 of the college’s 15 programs had classes that required skills demonstrations.
“You can’t teach somebody how to weld or have them show you they know how to weld unless you’re there,” Genandt says. “We can’t teach somebody really how to fix brakes, fix a transmission, unless you’re there in the lab.”
The president, in his fifth year with the college, says they worked with Riley County Health Department Julie Gibbs to ensure their re-opening plan followed CDC and KDHE health guidelines. Genandt says they were able to limit movement and exposure within their facilities and had no issues after receiving the OK to re-open to students the first week of May.
“If they’re in welding, they go to that part of the building. They’re not interacting with other buildings, other students,” Genandt says. “That’s one of our advantages is that our students pretty much stay in their program area for most of the day and that helps us get through some of the health issues.”
MATC is not the only area educational institution to continue in-person education amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine students were permitted to continue their rotations and continue progress on their degrees.
Now extended an additional three years, Genandt says he’s appreciative of the MATC Board of Directors giving him the opportunity to continue growing the college and its community partnerships. A move on that front, he says, is the beginning of MATC renovations of its first off-campus high school center in Wamego.
The college acquired the former Bluestem Electric Cooperative property at 614 US-24 earlier this year, having been in talks with Pottawatomie County schools for a couple years. Genandt says the center will start with two buildings and open in the Fall to area high school students interested in technical fields, though the list of available programs is not entirely set.
“The main office building where we’ll have some offices, we’ll have some testing, we’ll have general education and computer lab stuff,” says Genandt. “And then the shops building beyond that we’ll be renovating based on some feedback we keep collecting from school districts and business and industry.”
“What can we do with health care, as an example, what can we do with computer network and cybersecurity, what can we do with maybe welding?”
He says the expansion allows the college to extend access to their programs to new students in Wamego and Rock Creek districts that could not make it to the Manhattan-based programs. Genandt also notes some high demand courses will be similar to existing courses in MATC’s program with USD 383 while some offerings will differ based on local needs.
“Everything we’re doing is trying to drive how do we capture the local population and raise their talent level to fill in the jobs that are needed for this regional economy.”
Regional economies are taking a hit across the board due to the impact of novel coronavirus prompted business and school closures, and that hit is expected to be felt by governments and schools. The City of Manhattan expects sales tax dips between $3 million and $8 million. Kansas State University is expecting to lose $35 million.
“I feel a lot for our colleagues down the road at K-State, this is agony for them — they’ll come through it, they will persevere, no doubt about it,” says Genandt. “We’re a much smaller scale operation. I don’t have housing, I don’t have those kind of student auxiliary things, so it’s a little bit easier for us.”
MATC has no taxing authority and only receives about one third of its budget from the State of Kansas, which Genandt says lessens the potential impact of governmental budget woes compared to state universities. But without that taxing authority, he acknowledges that any cut hurts. He says he’s proud MATC has not had to furlough any employees, but the college has plans in place depending on what cuts they see and can off-set.
Colleges are also questioning what level of enrollment to expect entering Fall. As the additional two thirds of MATC’s funding comes from students, this is particularly important to Genandt. National media have speculated whether community and tech colleges will benefit from the situation, with the economy making cost even more central a factor. While the future remains to be seen, Genandt says things look good for now.
“We had 32 applications come in in 48 hours last week, which for us that’s an incredible pace all of a sudden,” he says. “And we’re seeing more and more interest, but [will]interest translate into actual enrollment we don’t know.”
One program he won’t have to worry about is MATC’s adult education program. The Adult Learning Center provides GED and English as a second language instruction and was awarded full grant funding last week through the Perkins Collaborative Resource Center for an additional five years. Genandt says the program has been an asset, many of the students served having been USD 383 students.
“And then by having it on campus, we’re seeing more and more of those students co-enroll in college and they’re going into like CNA, welding, auto tech,” he says. “So they’re not just getting that GED equivalency, they’re getting prepared for an occupation so they can go to work.”
Genandt says MATC continues to explore grant opportunities in addition to approximately $180,000 it received in CARES Act funds. He says the money is going to be distributed as student grants per regulations.