NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Administrators host virtual town hall for students

Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn and Vice President of Academic Affairs Bill Heinemen outlined in an 11 a.m. public Zoom town hall on Wed the various student-aimed financial relief measures the college is either putting in motion, presently only considering or deliberately avoiding the pursuit of in light of the coronavirus pandemic and consequent widespread economic insecurity.

Glenn said that qualifying students should soon be getting relief checks, ranging from $300-$1200, whose amounts are based on credit enrollment, as NECC received, according to him, about $1.3 million of the $14 billion the recent federal CARES Act (legislation passed as a relief measure for those financially afflicted by the coronavirus) allocates to higher education in the US. Heinemen stressed that NECC is not considering any partial facilities refunds for students; the college’s rationale, he said, is that conversion to and management of remote learning has cost the school an amount of money similar to the sum usually directed towards maintaining on-campus services.

Heinemen also stated that the school plans not to provide partial refunds for spring 2020 lab course students, as virtual lab resources are, he says, costing NECC enough money to essentially substitute for the cost of in-person labs. Yet Heinemen did express uncertainty about how certain lab class requirements, like logging hours in off-campus facilities, will affect some science students’ ability to successfully finish their classes. For many facilities students train in, like dental offices, are legally designated as nonessential and remain closed with exceptions for emergencies.

He also proposed other paths for financial help, like full refunds for students whose education has been severely disrupted in some way by the coronavirus.

Glenn elaborated that students need not apply for CARES Act-based aid, claiming that the college is actively seeking out students who require assistance: “We have now put together the process for how we’ll be distributing that funding…Students who are enrolled in the spring and are currently registered for the summer and/or fall, no application needed. We know who you are. We’re going to find you.”

“And based on the number of credits you’re registered for, we’ll be distributing some funds, $300, $600, $900 or $1,200, depending on your level of registration. If you are not yet registered for the summer or fall, we will be asking you to make an application for these funds,” he added.

Glenn also explained that, under national CARES Act parameters, 50% of the $1.3 million NECC receives must go directly to students via relief aid.

The NECC Student Emergency Fund, created by the school in response to the pandemic and whose reserve originates entirely from charitable contributions by community members, has also helped somewhat in the school’s fight against widespread economic turmoil, Glenn expressed: “Those checks have been going out continuously, as we’ve been getting applications for that aid. Obviously, it’s a much smaller pot of money, $15 or $20 thousand versus $1.3 million, but we are tremendously grateful for all the people who have contributed to that.”

He did not specify how much money the average check from the fund contains, the currency range in which checks from the fund fall or what level of need a student must present in order to qualify.

Heinemen ruled out the possibility of partial facilities refunds for NECC students by saying, “Even though the physical facilities are being used a lot less right now, there are still expenses associated with making sure we can have good remote teaching and learning across all of our classes. Sometimes that’s meant new software purchases. All that Zoom stuff doesn’t come forfree. And, also, making sure students have laptops and technology at home.”

In essence, he contended that the costs of running and providing student services as well as current expenses associated with labs have not necessarily decreased with the schoolwide shift to remote learning.

And Glenn dispelled ambiguity surrounding possible tuition cost decreases in fall 2020, saying, “We’re trying to restrain costs as much as possible…Our tuition is always the same, whether it’s online classes, hybrid classes, you know, we try to keep the costs as low as possible, no matter how we’re offering those classes.”

Meaning, Glenn reported that he and other administration officials are actually trying to avoid an increase in costs this fall. If enrollment is lower and students drop out at a higher rate, he said, then NECC may have to raise tuition to retain financial viability.

But he added that he and others are trying to ensure an increase in tuition does not happen: “I am in almost daily conversations with our local legislative delegation. Last night I spoke with members of the (Mass.) House of Representatives and the Senate…I have been in conversation with our congressional delegation, our senators and our representatives in D.C., promoting the same message, which is that this is a challenging economic time for everyone…community colleges, more than ever, need [financial support] so that we can keep our costs as low as possible for students.”

In regards to the future of courses and majors which require the logging of off-campus hours by students, Heinemen simultaneously projected optimism and a dismal uncertainty. He explained, “Some of our programs that require clinical hours already have flexibility to do some of those hours virtually…Other programs do not have that flexibility at all…It really depends on the program.”

As a possible answer to the myriad concerns and questions students of clinical courses may have, Heinemen offered the following advice: “What I recommend is trying to get in touch with the program coordinator who can tell you, at least, what things are looking like right now…Hopefully, it’ll become clearer over time. But we’re not really sure at this point how some of our spring students will be able to finish up.”

Another avenue of recourse proposed by Heinemen was the extension of the full refund application window for students whose education has been disrupted this semester due to extenuating circumstances.

“I really urge you to go to the refund page on the NECC webpage…You can always reach out to Student Financial Services…But we’ve always allowed students to apply for a refund beyond [the drop] period, which, obviously, ended in January. But we’ve always allowed students to apply for a refund beyond that period because of difficult circumstances that have come up,” he said.

Possible circumstances cited by Heinemen included being infected with COVID-19 or having to take care of someone infected. It should be noted, though, that Heinemen did not make any guarantees of refund distribution but, instead, merely encouraged students to apply for full refunds.

While Heinemen voiced skepticism about NECC’s having the option to open up in-person classes and services before even late summer, he did posit a possibility of at least partially reopening the campus at the start of summer session II courses (which the college’s Academic Calendar dictates to officially begin on June 22).

“Some of the summer classes don’t begin until the end of June, and they run well into July and even the early part of August. Is it possible then? Yeah…But it’s also possible that won’t happen,” Heinemen argued. Currently, Mass. General Hospital’s virtual coronavirus simulator projects daily reported COVID-19 cases in Mass. to begin dropping into the double-digits during late June. According to the Boston Globe, 1,963 new cases were reported on Wed.

The virtual town hall, officially titled, “NECC Virtual Town Hall on Remote Learning Success,” was hosted and facilitated by Audrey Ellis, Assistant Director of Student Success Management Systems at NECC.

NECC Student Government Association President Samantha Cook was supposed to assume a main speaker role alongside Glenn and Heinemen. She told the Observer she was feeling unwell at the time of the town hall and consequently was unable to attend and answer student questions.