Increased enrollment projections, no mandatory COVID-19 precautions and a focus on growth are in store for State Technical College of Missouri this fall semester.
Projections indicate State Tech will start classes next week with record-breaking enrollment.
Numbers could reach more than 2,000 students, something that hasn’t been done since the college’s founding in 1961.
State Tech President Shawn Strong said the school is on track to break its enrollment record for the fifth year in a row if students arrive in numbers as they have previously.
“Assuming history repeats itself, we should have a good opening to the fall semester as far as enrollment numbers go,” Strong said. “Our biggest struggle right now is finding housing for all the students here in Linn.”
The college will welcome its largest class in history to campus Monday to kick off its fall semester with PowerUp and the following Week of Welcome.
In addition to getting students accustomed and prepared for the upcoming semester, PowerUp will feature a free barbecue and live music from local bands.
Classes at State Tech begin Tuesday, Aug. 24, and run through Thursday, Dec. 16.
Brandon McElwain, State Tech’s director of marketing, said the Week of Welcome incorporates events such as tie-dying shirts, airbrush painting and a NASCAR simulator.
“We’ve really increased the number of opportunities for students,” Strong said. “Data shows that students make a decision whether or not to stay at a school in the first two weeks of class, so we really try to keep students engaged for those first couple weeks to really build a relationship with State Tech.”
Strong said the college will be operating as it usually did before the COVID-19 pandemic, at least until a trend of virus transmission between students is found.
Face masks and social distancing requirements, two common COVID-19 precautions used in higher education institutions around the state last year, will not be in place when students arrive to class Aug. 24.
“If we see a trend of students passing anything to students, then we’ll probably jump back into a masking scenario, but we’re going to start out with operations pre-COVID to start out with,” Strong said.
McElwain said Strong and the Executive Leadership Team made the decision based on outlook and vaccine availability.
“Everyone has had a chance to be vaccinated at this point,” McElwain said.
Strong said the college will still encourage social distancing and face masks, but they will not be required or enforced.
McElwain said the college will also still conduct cleaning and sanitizing to protect against the virus.
In the event an outbreak does occur, Strong said the college will likely go back to requiring face masks in academic buildings and move classes to larger rooms to allow for social distancing.
The University of Missouri, the state’s flagship higher education institution, announced a reinstatement of its classroom masking policy, regardless of vaccination status, starting at the beginning of August.
State Tech uses a five-scenario plan based on the presence of COVID-19 cases in the area.
Under scenario one, which the campus will operate under as classes begin, “the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is minimal and large group congregation without social distancing is acceptable.”
Under scenario five, campus could be closed and classes would be taught remotely.
McElwain said State Tech only reached scenario three last year as the college had a few COVID-19 cases, but none was linked to community spread at State Tech.
In addition to striving for a COVID-free campus, Strong said maintaining growth will be a constant priority throughout the year, whether it be in academic programming or with developments around the community.
State Tech recently added agricultural business, digital marketing and power generation programs to its academic offerings.
The college also has its country club improvement project taking place this year with construction bids for an academic building and a driving range scheduled to open later in the week.
Strong said cost and timeline are the top priorities for the construction bids, but the timeline might need to be pushed back.
“We were hoping to have it commence here shortly and be ending in April, but most of the builders are telling us six to eight months to get a steel building,” Strong said.
To address student living needs, Strong said he hopes building more living spaces becomes a priority for area developers, rather than the college devoting more resources to housing in the upcoming year.
With new apartment complexes built last year, Strong said about 100 beds were added to off-campus housing in the community, but it is not enough.
“We had a number of new apartment complexes come online, but it’s still not keeping up,” Strong said. “I know there are several developers that are looking at building for next fall, so we hope — and I think the material costs and that kind of thing has made them a little hesitant to pull the trigger to start construction, but we clearly need it.”
State Tech has added 200 new students every year since 2017, which has resulted in considerable development for Linn, which has a population of 1,492.
“Even if we don’t grow that much this year, we definitely have a shortage,” Strong said. “We probably could have used another 75 beds that we could have filled if they were available to us.”
McElwain said keeping State Tech’s national ranking as the best hands-on technical education will also be a priority as the college grows.
Wallethub, a Washington D.C.-based financial advising company, announced Monday that State Tech maintained its first place ranking as the nation’s top community college. The distinction is based on factors such as cost of in-state tuition and fees, faculty-to-student ratio and graduation rates.
State Tech was also ranked the third best two-year trade school in the country by Forbes Magazine.
McElwain said the recognition can be credited to the effective collaboration between faculty, staff, administration and students.