BY MIKE FUHRMAN

Barring a change in public health protocols, the vast majority of Mitchell Community College students will continue to receive remote instruction during the upcoming spring semester.

There are some exceptions – such as public safety, nursing, paramedic and advanced manufacturing and HVAC courses — where in-person instruction will be delivered with face masking and social distancing protocols.

“We will not recklessly return” to in-person instruction for all students, Mitchell President Dr. Tim Brewer said. “We will be monitoring how things go with the vaccine. We can change over if it’s possible to do that, but we will maintain our current protocol.”

Mitchell’s plan aligns with the best practices established by the N.C. Community College System’s COVID task force.

Following the onset of the pandemic, Mitchell pivoted rapidly to online instruction following an extended spring break. For those who have been on campus, the college staggered class start times and implemented temperature checks and other protocols established by CDC and the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services.

“I’m pleased with how the college has managed COVID-19,” Brewer said. “Our faculty and staff jumped into it full force, ramping up and getting set up for online courses.”

Mitchell administrators have been in regular contact with Iredell County Health Department Director Jane Hinson since March, frequently seeking her input on the college’s COVID-19 response, Brewer said.

Between August 17 and December 14, a total of 14 staff, faculty and students tested positive for COVID-19, college officials said. A total of 89 individuals quarantined at some point due to possible exposure to the infection, which has been attributed to more than 100 deaths in Iredell County since the pandemic began.

Enrollment/Spring Registration

Surprisingly, the pandemic has not had a major impact on student enrollment.

The college’s Full-Time Equivalency, the enrollment figure used to determine state and federal funding, was level this fall compared to the fall of 2019, although the headcount was up by about 90 students.

Registration numbers for spring 2021 are tracking about even with spring 2020.

Students can register for spring 2021 courses through January 10. Visit www.mitchellcc.edu to learn more.

Lessons Learned

Mitchell students were asked on a survey for their thoughts on virtual learning and their preferences for future instruction.

The students were pretty clear about what they want.

“Our students prefer to be on campus and interacting in a classroom, and that is closely followed by how our faculty feel about it,” Brewer said.

College officials have also learned what is truly “essential” to achieving their mission and have discovered some ways to be more efficient, which could result in some possibly being eliminated.

With most students and faculty working remotely, the college has been able to devote time and effort to taking care of facility needs, Brewer said.

“We’ve caught up on a lot of deferred maintenance on campus,” ahead of schedule. “We are ahead of schedule on our maintenance.”

Meanwhile, Brewer is optimistic that the college experience for faculty and students will look a little more normal by August, when the fall 2021 semester begins.

“I’m very hopeful we will be back to whatever the new normal is depending on where we are with the vaccine,” he said.

Graduation Contingency Plans

The college has planned for a virtual graduation, an in-person ceremony with a limited crowd, and a traditional ceremony with hundreds of friends and  family members in attendance at the Statesville campus. A decision on which format will be made closer to the end of the spring semester.

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