MARIETTA, OHIO— As president of Washington State Community College (WSCC), I’ve seen firsthand the impact higher education has on moving a student from poverty to prosperity. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been heartbreaking to watch otherwise vital students lose their academic footing amid the unemployment fallout. As an institution, we rallied to support our students as best as we could. We leaned heavily on our Foundation for additional support both financially and through our food pantry. It gives me great pride to say that despite the adversity, we successfully navigated the most difficult semester in the history of the college.
Recently, Governor Mike DeWine announced a $200 million allocation of additional Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds for higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). This was a wonderful surprise and greatly appreciated. This newest round of funds are earmarked to help colleges and universities with operational aid as we prepare to bring students back to our campuses. These funds will be of monumental value as we work to ensure everyone’s health and safety while giving students the opportunity to continue their higher education. The funds will be used to alter labs and classrooms to provide six foot distance, technology, PPE, cleaning/sanitizing systems, and other expenses.
The first round of CARES Act, HEERF funds were awarded to WSCC by the federal government for the direct support of our students. These funds were incredibly valuable to many students at WSCC where 44 percent of our student population lives in poverty. I am proud to say that through the HEERF grant, Washington State has been able to support 367 students with a total of $428,193 to date.
Throughout this entire endeavor, Governor DeWine, Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) Chancellor Randy Gardner, and President and CEO of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC) Jack Hershey have worked closely with higher education institutions as we navigate these uncharted waters. College presidents throughout Ohio have been given tremendous support as we work to ensure the safety of our students, staff, and faculty and the continued education of our communities. We, including the WSCC Board of Trustees, are also appreciative of their work in developing the FY21 budget. Earlier this spring, K-12 educational institutions and colleges alike throughout the state were prepared for budget cuts that were expected to be steep. We were pleased to learn that the budget reduction was significantly less than anticipated.
As both a citizen of Ohio and a leader in higher education, I am grateful for the leadership of Governor DeWine and all of our state representatives. His distribution of state CARES Act funds and his efforts to reduce budget cuts to educational institutions are evidence of the vision he has for the future of the state of Ohio and the vital role that higher education will play in that vision.
Thank you Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted. From WSCC students, faculty, staff, and myself, please know your efforts are immensely appreciated.
Vicky Wood, Ph.D.
President of Washington State Community College