ASCC caught between COVID-19 curbs and accreditation standards
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Community College (ASCC) has proposed a budget plan of more than $5 million for its Summer Semester and the Fall Semester, utilizing both online and face-to-face courses, to remain compliant with the governor’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.
While trying to be COVID-19 compliant, another issue faced by the college is meeting its accreditation standards, which means ASCC cannot be an online institution, according to college president Dr. Rosevonne Pato at a recent cabinet meeting, where she gave a detailed presentation on the institution’s plan for the Summer and Fall semesters.
Responding to the proposed $5.69 million budget for two semesters, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, who had instructed ASCC to provide the presentation, suggested that the college reach out to its grantors for funding as well as asking Congresswoman Aumua Amata for help.
“I can guarantee you one thing we’re not going to supply all that money. We’ll help in anyway we can. That’s why I suggest, go back to the conventional way of educating and start planning from there,” the governor informed Dr. Pato.
“Get all the improvements you can get from the fundings [under] COVID-19. And also go back to your grantors and put through this proposal, if they can help out in anyway,” he said during the cabinet meeting at the newly renovated ASCC Lecturer Hall.
The governor also said that the ASCC plans should be submitted to the ASG Coronavirus Task Force for review and recommendations to him, for a final decision.
After the 5th Amended Declaration, issued June 1st, which states that ASCC remains closed, “we have to really look at what we’re going to do to, allow for some activity to happen, because the Spring semester was closed and we’re walking right into the Summer session,” Dr. Pato said.
She explained some of the issues that the college worked through, include conducting more thorough training of faculty and service staff to be able to conduct business and courses online; cancellation of placement testing for new students; and cancellation of registration of new and returning students.
“We had to make a big decision, as to whether or not we are going to bring in new students to campus,” she explained. “Because ASCC remains closed under the declaration, we were not able to bring in new students to do placement testing — which is done for new students, as they come on campus to take their English and Math tests, which are very important so that they be placed in the correct Math and English.”
Cancellation of placement testing “means we also needed to cancel all registration for new and returning students. And I know this was a big issue for parents as well as students. But it was the only way that we can continue to allow for some classes to happen,” she points out.
With the support of the Board of Higher Education, which governs the college, “we decided to only have classes for our continuing students, [who are] already enrolled — and were here in the Spring — continuing on during the Summer. These are the only students currently taking classes at ASCC,” she said.
To remain compliant with current restrictions, the college reduced the number of courses — from the normal 150 to 67 — for the Summer semester, which began on June 15th, with “continuing students” which are students who attended Spring classes and are heading into Summer “and continuing education programs” — which are the nursing program, teacher education program and vocational or apprentice program.
Summer semester also includes:
• 50% courses offered online; 50% courses face-to-face, and all courses have online component;
• Laboratory courses, practical courses, vocational- technical courses meet four-days a week;
• No more than eleven courses meet at one given time;
• No classes held on Fridays;
All face-to-face courses are required to meet social distancing restrictions.
Dr. Pato also explained in detail the $2.57 million budget proposal, which covers expenditures for training faculty and staff for Fall Semester and Implementation of new Student Face-to-Face Placement Testing; and Registration on every Friday throughout the month of July and beginning of August.
Other expenditures: upgrading of equipment and devices purchased for students /faculty – compatibility requirements for online instruction; and upgrading email servers and purchase licenses for online service — ZOOM, Google-classroom, etc. — teleconferencing services for online education.
During the Fall semester, the college normally has 315 courses, but to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, ASCC plans to offer 69 courses, with a proposed budget of $3.11 million.
“One of the proposals we are looking at is to split our days into ‘SESSIONS’, which would be a day session and an evening session,” Dr. Pato explained, noting that this requires the college to increase staffing, faculty, tech-support, equipment and supplies for both day and evening sessions. “So that would be a challenge.”
Furthermore, the college is expecting an increase in Fall enrollment “because many students, that would normally go off-island, they now are choosing to remain on island or their parents are saying, [for them] to remain on island,” she said,
With expected enrollment increases, this also means the college will need additional equipment and supplies. The proposed budget plan also covers:
• Increase in technical costs for online instruction;
• New student placement testing for online courses;
• New student MOODLE system training for online courses — new students must be trained and oriented to the college’s online system or they will be lost.
• Continuing, New, and Late Registration Costs for online courses.
Besides giving verbal details, Dr. Pato also had a slide show, which provides specific explanations of each expenditure for both Summer and Fall semesters.
CHALLENGES SUMMER AND FALL
“It has been a real challenge to move from face to face offering of courses to online, or some component of online courses,” she said and explained the challenges, as long as ASCC remains closed to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
“As we limit our courses, we limit our revenue because our main source of revenue is running courses,” she said of the decrease in revenue as another challenge.
Other challenges are online payments – most students do not have a credit card and use parents card; security of information for online services; stability of internet access; internet access to all students and all faculty; and costs of internet access to students and to college personnel.
And a major challenge is, meeting the college’s “accreditation standards particular to student contact hours”, because ASCC is not a certified online college able to provide Distance and Correspondence education.
“As we are trying to be in compliance with the declaration that we have been given, we also have to meet our accreditation standards (which) says that we cannot be an online, we are not an online institution,” Dr. Pato explained. “So that means, we have to really limit what we can do online because our courses are supposed to be face-to-face.”
During the Spring semester, the accreditation commission “gave us a little lee-way to just push everything online. But as schools and [U.S] states are opening up, they’re also looking at us being able to open up our school,” she said.
“So if we remain closed, we have to really remember that we can’t put everything online,” she told the cabinet meeting.