Centralia College President Says Biggest Concerns Include Budget Cuts, Enrollment in Virtual Town Hall


At a virtual town hall Wednesday afternoon, Centralia College President Dr. Bob Mohrbacher gave an update on the happenings at the college and answered questions from faculty and students, including questions about graduation, state funding, and the upcoming summer and fall quarters.

Mohrbacher gave an update to the 55 meeting attendees about receiving CARES Act funding— funding directed to universities to help students who need assistance paying for their education after feeling the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have received funding through the CARES Act — federal stimulus money for student aid. We received that early this week and we’re accepting applications from students and we should start awarding that aid to students any day — maybe as early as today,” said Mohrbacher.

Mohrbacher also spoke about the 12 percent drop in enrollment that the college is experiencing compared to last spring’s enrollment numbers.

“The technical colleges are particularly hard (hit) because some of those things just can’t be done online. So we’re somewhere around the system average. Most colleges (enrollment) are down about 10 to 12 percent,” said Mohrbacher.

“Obviously this whole situation is causing a lot of budget uncertainty. The preliminary budget forecast is in a few days and then the regular budget forecast is in early June and then we will know a little more about the situation. I don’t think anybody knows at this point. What is most likely is there will be state budget cuts and probably it will be like it was during the recession and we will have a series of budget cuts over the next one to three years as the economy goes through recovery,” said Mohrbacher.

Mohrbacher said that in order to ensure that the quality of education stays consistent from in-person classes to online classes faculty members are participating in training programs and students have been given surveys that gather information on ways to better serve them during this time.

Mohrbacher said that the college has been communicating with the governor’s office and that he’s predicting that some classes will be permitted to return to the classroom setting if they practice the six-foot social distancing rule and/or wear personal protective equipment.

“The ones that are going to be allowed to hold those classes are primarily going to be tied to the essential businesses that are allowed to operate under the stay at home order but we don’t have a final list yet — they are still negotiating with the governor’s office. We should hear sometime this week,” said Mohrbacher.

Mohrbacher said the college will be open and operating for the summer and fall quarter but it is likely the courses will be held mostly online. The college has added extra classes to the summer quarter for those who had to drop courses and are now able to pay for classes using the federal stimulus payment, Mohrbacher said.

“Probably summer will continue to be mostly online but we don’t know if there will be further opening up of that or not. There is even less certainty about fall. We are just monitoring the situation and just seeing what’s allowed,” said Mohrbacher.

Alternate commencement plans are being made, Mohrbacher said, and the normal graduation ceremony will be the last thing to come off of the restricted list because of the large gathering of people.

“The plan that we are working on is that anyone who is graduating will receive instructions on whether or not you want things mailed to you or if you want to come to campus at a scheduled time and get a picture taken by a professional photographer with your Mortar Board and diploma,” said Mohrbacher.

The college is planning to purchase the mortar boards and tassels for graduation students and students will be responsible for purchasing the gowns if they want them, Mohrbacher said.

“I hear from all of the colleges from around the state and in my unbiased opinion Centralia College has done an amazing job at adapting to this new situation which is not to say that everything has been perfect or easy but a lot of people have worked really hard to adapt to situations and come up with solutions to problems,” said Mohrbacher.