Three coronavirus updates you need to know about Columbia

By Alexandra Yetter, Editor-in-Chief

Courtesy Columbia College Chicago
Columbia will receive $6 million in federal aid per Congress’ stimulus deal; employees will work from home through the end of May; and instructors will use a special attendance report.

There is a lot going on as Columbia—and the rest of the world—reckons with a global health pandemic and the college enters its second week of online classes.

“Inevitably, not everything that we try over the next few weeks will work as well as we had hoped, and we will have to make adjustments on the fly,” said President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim in an April 14 email to the Columbia community. “This is a reality that creative practitioners understand, coronavirus or not.”

Here are three things Chronicle readers need to know and should expect to see pop up in the stories being worked on by our hardworking reporters.

Columbia receives $6 million from the government

As part of the multi-trillion dollar CARES Act stimulus deal signed by President Donald Trump on March 27, Columbia will receive approximately $6.3 million in federal aid. Of that allocation, approximately half—or roughly $3.1 million—must be awarded for emergency grants to students directly impacted by campus closures due to the coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic.

The financial aid package comes as higher education institutions brace for potential enrollment downfalls and financial whiplash as part of a coronavirus-induced recession, as reported April 7 by the Associated Press, and with the potential for some stay-at-home mandates to still be in effect in the fall.

The allocation of funds from the CARES Act was based on a college’s number of full-time, Pell-eligible students. According to Columbia’s website, approximately 35% of undergraduate students received Pell grants for the Fall 2019 semester.

For comparison, DePaul University will receive approximately $14 million; Loyola University will receive approximately $10 million; and the University of Chicago will receive approximately $6 million, to name a few Chicago area universities.

In a Tuesday, April 14 email to the Chronicle from Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations, she said the college is waiting for guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on specifically how the funds can be used. She said the college has not yet received any funds.

“While the stimulus funds will help the college offset costs related to the pandemic, it will only cover a third of the COVID-19 related costs incurred by the college thus far,” Lukidis said. “To date, we have had $9 million in unexpected expenses. Again, the stimulus funds will provide $3 million of assistance, we still have $6 million of expenses.”

Lukidis said it is too early to tell how the pandemic will affect the college’s revenue, adding that the college does not plan on providing refunds outside room and board.

Employees to continue working from home through May

In compliance with the ongoing statewide stay-at-home order and calls for social distancing, the college announced in an April 9 email to Columbia employees that all employees should continue working from home through the end of May.

According to the email, most campus buildings will remain closed with access granted on a case-by-case basis. Employees fulfilling “essential services” will be permitted on campus regularly for “various facilities and business functions of the college.” Job descriptions of the employees performing “essential services” were not specified in the email.

Student employees are also expected to work remotely through the end of the spring semester. Those whose duties are not easily transferable will receive new assignments. If “extenuating circumstances” prohibit a student from working, they must speak with their supervisor so as to continue being paid, according to an April 9 email sent to student workers from Vice President of Student Affairs Sharon Wilson-Taylor.

“We are aware that our student workers depend on their student employment earnings,” Wilson-Taylor said.

College uses special attendance report system

Instructors will be running a special attendance report “to best support our students” the week of Monday, April 13, according to a Friday, April 10 email sent to Columbia faculty from Registrar Keri Walters.

The report will measure student attendance from April 6–18 following the three-week pause in instruction—which allowed faculty to plan the online transition of their classes and included spring break.

“This process will allow … departments and academic advisors to proactively reach out to students and provide additional support to those who need it,” Walters said in the email.

A student will be counted for attendance if they log into the course on Canvas at least once and participate in at least one academic activity, such as a Zoom class, a discussion forum, a class assignment or an alternate method. If a student does not fulfill the criteria, they will be marked absent, which may affect their grade in the course, according to the email.

Only undergraduate courses will participate in this special attendance report system, Walters said.