With face masks on and social distancing, (L to R) Kosciusko County Public Health Officer Dr. William Remington, Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer and Grace College & Seminary President Dr. Bill Katip pose for a photo after Wednesday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
With face masks on and social distancing, (L to R) Kosciusko County Public Health Officer Dr. William Remington, Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer and Grace College & Seminary President Dr. Bill Katip pose for a photo after Wednesday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Grace College & Seminary President Dr. Bill Katip addressed everything Wednesday from classes and student refunds to athletics during the weekly press conference on the coronavirus pandemic at Warsaw City Hall.

“Grace is an evangelical Christian community of higher education, which applies biblical values, strengthening character, sharpening competence and preparing for service and we’ve been working these last four, five months on how we can maintain that mission,” he said.

Several years ago, after the recession, he said Grace altered its schedules to have two eight-week sessions each semester. This spring, it just started its second eight weeks, on March 11, and students had two days of classes.

“I remember that night. Late on the 12th, our board met and we put a notice up that there won’t be classes tomorrow, on the 13th,” Katip recalled.

On March 13, Grace shut down the campus and asked its students to leave by Sunday evening. After students were given a couple of days off, remote education classes began on Wednesday, March 18.

“But our faculty and staff were phenomenal. They came through,” he said.

The admissions office began immediately to put together video and did virtual visits. There was online chapel and counseling.

“I don’t know if you’re all aware, but the mental health needs of college students are pretty intense these days and you add the stress of this situation and it required legislative adjustments,” he said.

Grace offered online activities for students, and provided extra care for its special needs students.

Funds & Refunds

As reported in the newspaper, Katip said Grace received government funding – about $1.5 million from the CARES Act.

“We were probably the latest school, certainly in the state, to give refunds for students when they moved off campus. It amounted to about a fourth of their year when you figure that second eight weeks. Our families were very patient. We’ve probably got a 1,000 living in the dorms, and probably under 20 actually wrote and said, ‘Are we going to get a refund like some of the other schools?’” Katip said.

When Grace received the CARES funding, half of it was required to go to students, but Katip said Grace gave all of what it received to students. With the $1.5 million, Grace chipped in another couple hundred thousand to give students refunds.

“So we were able to refund 100% of what the students would have paid,” Katip said.

Along with the refunds, Grace asked its students if they had other needs. Dozens responded, saying they lost jobs. Grace did fundraising and were able to raise over $200,000, which was pushed out to students.

Grace didn’t know if it would qualify for the Payroll Protection Plan, but working with 1st Source Bank, it did.

“That was a tremendous help,” Katip said. “Everybody’s at home working, but still to have that resource. So that was another $2.5 million, and we believe that virtually all of ours will be cancelled when those applications are actually working.”

This summer, Grace shut down with minimal students left on campus. Most summer activities were cancelled.

Fall Classes

As Grace looked toward the fall, initially about 80% of colleges were planning to reopen. As of Monday, Katip said it’s under 50% nationwide. Indiana is higher.

“Our faculty and our students, they don’t want to do remote learning. They really want to be on campus, so we’ve had a lot of groups working and we’ve made the decision – actually similar to Purdue and to Notre Dame – that we’re compressing our calendar. We’re starting one week early and we’re going to finish the Friday before Thanksgiving. There will not be a required online component, but that’s when the semester will be over,” Katip said.

There will be no fall break or Labor Day off so students can get home when the flu season is in full swing.

“We’re trusting that we can have this plan come together and actually work out,” he said.

A resurgence committee was put together last week. Faculty had three days to plan their remote classes, with more planned if necessary.

While new students will begin classes this fall Aug. 19, the second semester is slated to being in the second week of January.

Guiding Principles

Katip said Grace wants to protect the safety, health and well-being of its students and employees.

“We’re going to comply with the federal, state, local and CDC guidelines. We’re prioritizing student learning, so this group that’s working on the what-ifs, we may have to cancel student activities to still have classes and we’re taking a prioritization of those. We’re going to work closely with other higher ed partners,” he said.

Subgroups have worked on different tasks like classroom space. Classrooms now will hold 40% of what they had typically. There won’t be many off-campus events, but classes will be held in banquet rooms, facilities at Winona Lake Free Methodist Church and Grace Brethren Church.

“These partners have been phenomenal to us and we have classrooms assigned there,” Katip said.

Students are being urged to not travel back and forth from home, but to stay on campus. Grace has a campus commitment, similar to Purdue’s pledge, which will be signed by all students, faculty and staff and will be plastered all over campus.

All the information has been posted online, Katip said.

Back To Work

“We are all going to be back to work, Lord willing, with some exceptions, next Monday, Aug. 3,” Katip said.

The first group went back mid June, then July 6 and finally Aug. 3.

Later in his comments, he provided a few words about Grace’s budget.

“Colleges are planning on reduced enrollments this fall. We don’t know where we’ll be. If we could start school today, it would be a very encouraging picture,” Katip said. “Our new student enrollment actually is up, about 50 students from last year. And last year was our second highest ever, so this could be our second highest enrollment.”

But Grace is planning on up to a 100-student drop in enrollment and reduced its budget by $2 million.

“That’s a significant change. That’s going to involve starting in the fall. For administration and staff, they’re all going to take salary reductions. The Cabinet, we began that in June. And we just believe we had to be ready to sustain that drop,” Katip said. “If the fall comes in strong, we’re still going to make those adjustments. We don’t know what’s going to happen when the fall begins.”

Athletics

Grace’s basketball team was at the NAIA National Tournament in March and was warming up for its game during the half time of the prior game when the tournament was called and everyone was sent home.

For the last nine years, Grace hosted the NCCAA Tournament. A couple days after the NAIA Tournament was called, so, too, was the NCCAA Tournament.

“The NAIA just announced late last night, that’s our national affiliation, they’re not going to have fall championships. They had to have 50% of the schools to have it, and they fell below the thresholds, I think in every fall sport except for football. ... But men’s and women’s soccer, cross country, volleyball, there will not be championships,” Katip said.

He said the Crossroads League will still attempt to play fall sports.

“Whether the seasons will be split – some this fall, and some (in the spring) – it’s an activity that so many of our students, that’s the reason they come. They want a faith-based education where they can still play that sport. So our intent is to play those seasons this fall, but the championships will be in the spring,” Katip said.

Masks

There will be masks worn in the classrooms, Katip confirmed.

“I want to tell you we were glad to have the governor decide this last (Wednesday). It just makes that announcement a little bit easier. A little bit easier,” he said.

Faculty will social distance at least 8 feet to take their mask off. Students will have to wear those even if they’re 6 feet apart.

Athletes must be tested, and international students must quarantine for two weeks before beginning sports or classes.

Contact Tracing

Katip said Grace will be doing its own internal contact tracing if anyone tests positive for COVID-19.

“Our nurse has been trained and certified. We’re getting two more. I understand what our state is doing, but when (Public Health Officer Dr. William Remington) told us some weeks ago it (contact tracing) was going to the state, if we wait until that contact tracing goes on, we’re going to risk, serious risk, so we’ll have at least three doing our own contact tracing and doing the isolation or quarantine,” Katip said.

At that point, Remington told him, “Thank you.”

There will be early testing for those with symptoms when it’s called for, Katip said, but it’s not testing everyone.