SPRINGFIELD — Responding to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) will restructure academic departments and discontinue some programs with low enrollment.
Geraldine de Berly, Vice President of Academic Affairs, announced the restructuring plan and listed seven programs to be discontinued in a campus e-mail. The program discontinuations will affect approximately 95 students, but those individuals will be able to complete their degree or certificate at STCC. Across an academic year, about 7,000 students enroll at STCC in about 90 different programs.
The decisions were made by the college in anticipation of projected budget shortfalls in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“It is regrettable that STCC is not immune to the fiscal difficulties that have befallen higher-education institutions,” de Berly said in the e-mail. “These unprecedented times have required hard decisions, and the loss of programs, as well as skilled and talented faculty and staff, is most dismaying. We recognize the considerable contributions and commitment made to the STCC community, and genuinely wish there was different news to share.”
STCC will reduce 21 positions through retrenchments and layoffs, in addition to early-retirement incentives. Some of the retrenchments are a result of restructuring and program closures.
John Cook, STCC president, said the restructuring plan will not change the college’s mission, and in fact reaffirms the imperative to continue as the most affordable and accessible option for many families. STCC is the only technical community college in Massachusetts with health and STEM programs serving significant populations of African-American, Latinx, and first-generation college students.
STCC’s Division of Student Affairs has worked diligently to provide quality services and student support in a remote environment during the COVID-19 crisis, said Vice President of Student Affairs Darcey Kemp. Some of the many services being provided remotely include academic advising, the Career Development Center, assistance with food insecurity and housing, disability services, testing and assessment, tutoring, as well as support to veterans.
Like other community colleges, STCC has experienced a steady decline in enrollment since peaking in 2010 during the Great Recession. The decline is linked to a number of factors, including the previously low unemployment rate, as well as smaller high-school graduating classes.
“We will continue to offer the most affordable pathway for students who seek a smart start and transfer, or look to enter critical workforce and career fields that include manufacturing and healthcare, with programs that include nursing, medical assistant, and respiratory care. Our two middle names are vital, and STCC prides ourselves on making the dream of higher education possible,” Cook said. “The college has made extremely difficult decisions necessitated by the fiscal impact of the pandemic, but we are resolved during these unprecedented challenges.”
Cook added that STCC will work closely with the local legislative delegation, as well as the Baker-Polito administration, regarding funding and support of community colleges. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, community colleges have been accustomed to adjusting operating expenses and limited budgets each year in support of students.
In light of fiscal considerations, departments have been restructured within the School of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies and the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and programs to be discontinued include automotive technology, biomedical engineering technology, biotechnology, civil engineering technology, cosmetology, dental assistant, and landscape design and management technology
STCC will work with students enrolled in the discontinued programs to develop an academic plan to complete their program of study. Students will be supported by an academic or faculty advisor and can consider migrating to related programs. For example, a student studying civil engineering technology may consider architectural building technology. Course offerings will continue beginning fall 2020 through program completion. Administrators are also considering moving some of the discontinued programs to STCC’s Workforce Development Center, which offers non-credit classes that meet employer demand across the region.
Due to COVID-19, STCC this fall will offer on-campus low-density labs using social-distancing protocols combined with online instruction. The college is known for its state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment in STEM programs, as well as a nationally recognized patient-simulation facility used by students in its health programs.