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COVID-19 System FAQ

For College Leadership Teams

(Last updated 04/07/2021 - Grant Timelines) 

Sub​mit questions related to System Office policies and practices to communications@wtcsystem.edu

COVID-19 VACCINATIONS

Will the System provide guidance on vaccinations for health care program students and faculty?

WTCS cannot provide System-wide guidance, given the highly localized nature of college partnerships with and guidance from local Public Health Departments and health care providers/partners, as well as individuals’ choice as to whether to be vaccinated.

However, the System will make every effort to share useful information with colleges about how sister institutions are proceeding, including samples of communications with students, faculty and staff.

Additional information on COVID-19 Vaccinations in Wisconsin can be found on the Department of Health Services website.

GOVERNOR'S DIRECTIVES

On May 13, 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the Governor’s “Safer at Home” Executive Order.

The System Office will operate in accordance with the Governor's "Badger Bounce Back" directive for state government.

INSTRUCTION

GRADING POLICY

Can colleges move to a pass/fail grading structure for the Spring 2020 semester?

Yes, but caution and careful assessment is advised.

For accreditation purposes, ensure changes to grading policies are justified and well documented in college policies and procedures. See the “Assignment of Grades” portion of the updates from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC): https://www.hlcommission.org/General/coronavirus-updates.html

Pass/Fail grading structures can be problematic for many reasons, which vary from program to program. Students must be made aware how a move to Pass/Fail applies to their unique situation, including the effect on course prerequisites and credit transfer, program requirements, selective or competitive program admission, financial aid eligibility, scholarships, veterans benefits, accreditation or licensure requirements, athletic eligibility and more. With respect to credit transfer, be aware of partner institutions’ policies, particularly institutions you have articulation agreements with and those that accept a significant number of your transfer students. How another institution accepts a “Pass” from your institution will likely be determined by how closely your Pass/Fail grading structures align.

Consider options for students to opt in or out of Pass/Fail, including flexible timeframes to make the decision. Many institutions are allowing students to make this decision late in the term or after it ends.

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) has additional guidance on their COVID-19 resource page. AACRAO also currently hosts a compilation of many institutions’ current approaches to Alternative Grading Policies.

HLC ACCREDITATION

Do colleges have flexibility in meeting the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) “regular and substantive contact” requirement?

Yes.

HLC is offering flexibility due to the rapid switch to on-line classes in response to the coronavirus pandemic. LEARN MORE

PROGRAM ADVISORY COMMITTEES

Do colleges have flexibility in regard to Advisory Committee meeting modality?

Yes.

ESM Chapter 1, section K-B-1, requires demonstration of advisory committee support for new program development, curriculum modifications and Technical Skill Attainment. As per WTCS Board Policy 309 and ESM Chapter 19, each district develops and maintains the policies and procedures relating to advisory committee operations.

To maximize flexibility for colleges at this time, alternate documentation will be accepted during 2020 as long as clear communication of changes and documentation of advisory committee support are shown.  For example, e-mails, survey results or similar may be accepted in lieu of meeting minutes.

TECHNICAL SKILL ATTAINMENT (TSA)

Do TSA Phase 2 assessment plan modifications for Spring 2020 need to be submitted to WTCS?

No.

WTCS recognizes that Phase 2 assessment plans may require modification due to shifting instruction on-line this spring. TSA competencies should be assessed to the extent possible within new course formats. Modifications to Phase 2 plans do not need to be submitted to WTCS for approval unless changes will be maintained into 2021 or beyond.

GRANTS

Can grantees seek additional flexibility in grant activities and timelines for grants received from the System?

Yes. This capacity is built into the existing grant structure.

Additionally, two-year FY 2019-20 GPR grants and all one-year FY 2020-21 grants can request to extend the grant end date from 6/30/2021 to 9/30/2021 if needed due to the impact of COVID-19.  Requests for changes to grants should be discussed with the specific grant manager and then submitted to grants@wtcsystem.edu.

When will FY 2020-21 Award Letters be sent out?

WTCS will send out FY 2020-21 Grant Award notification letters starting Monday, June 15.

For state grants, award notification and amounts are contingent upon and subject to funding sources allocated by the Wisconsin Legislature.

For federal grants, award notification and dollar amounts are contingent upon and subject to the availability of federal funds.

For all awards, certifications and other pre-award requirements (such as revisions and Perkins Plans) must be completed before award letters will be issued.

Will WTCS provide guidance to colleges on grant modification of FY 2020-21 State Grants?

Revisions to FY 2020-21 State grant submissions will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Any requested changes must align with the objectives and goals under which the award was granted.

Requests for changes to FY 2020-21 grants should first be discussed with the specific grant manager, then submitted to grants@wtcsystem.edu.

When will the FY 2021-22 guidelines be released?

The FY 2021-22 Grant Guidelines are scheduled to be an action item on the July 8, 2020 WTCS Board meeting agenda. The WTCS State and federal Perkins Grant Guidelines will be released upon approval.

Can WTCS Professional Growth grants be modified to allow colleges to support faculty and staff who are making changes in response to COVID-19?

Yes.

Professional Growth grant modifications are allowable for the current grant year and the 2020-2021 grant cycle. In addition, WTCS has waived budget guideline requirements for 2020-21 grants. This is intended to afford colleges maximum flexibility to best support faculty and staff who are responding to the current public health emergency.

Please contact mandy.johnson@wtcsystem.edu to discuss and initiate potential grant modifications.

Is instructor prep time an allowable use of current-year grant funds?

Yes.

Please connect with the WTCS Education Director(s) who manages your grant to discuss your plans and needed flexibility. We recognize that many colleges and grantees have shifted nearly all instruction and support services on-line, which can require additional prep time for faculty and staff.

For airline travel and conference cancellations, can the cost still be charged to state and federal grants?

It depends.

For federal grants:

  • When a refund or voucher is not issued, grantees can still charge the cost to the grant with the explanation, “due to COVID-19.”
  • When a refund is issued, it should be credited to the appropriate grant.
  • Because no federal guidance has been issued for vouchers as of March 27, 2020, we recommend that vouchers be applied to a future federal grant activity.

For state grants:

  • When a refund or voucher is not issued, grantees can still charge the cost to the grant with the explanation, “due to COVID-19.”
  • When a refund is issued, it should be credited to the appropriate grant.
  • When a voucher is issued, it should be applied to a future state grant activity.

PROCUREMENT

Can technical colleges use a virtual format for bid openings and project walk-throughs?

Yes.

It is ideal to use a virtual format that allows for video, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, to ensure adequate documentation of meeting attendance and to show vendors a detailed walk-through of the project specifications. Use language in solicitations that informs vendors of these expectations.

Is the COVID-19 pandemic considered an emergency for procurement purposes?

Yes.

Per the Financial and Administrative Manual (FAM), page 196: “When public exigency or emergency will not permit a delay incident to competitive procurement, districts may determine the procurement methodology most appropriate to the situation. Emergency procurements are limited to procurements necessitated by a threat to the continued operation of the district or to the health, safety or welfare of students, staff, or the immediately affected general public. Written documentation of the basis of the emergency and the vendor selection methodology and selection must be maintained.”

Emergency procurements only apply to those responding to the COVID-19 threat and not all procurements occurring during this pandemic situation. Adequate documentation of the emergency and the methodology for selecting the vendor must be kept in the file. If you are unsure if a procurement falls into the emergency procurement situation, please contact michelle.rudman@wtcsystem.edu.

DISTRICT BOARD APPOINTMENTS

What is the procedure for administering, in a virtual format, public hearings that occur as part of the District Board Appointment process?

In response to the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) is providing guidance in the administration of appointing district board members. 

WTCS will provide a waiver to the requirement that the candidate be physically present and attend the appointment meeting in person. Members of the appointment committee will also be able to participate through electronic means. This policy advisory shall remain in effect until further notice.

For questions regarding the administration of the board appointment process under Wis. Stats 38.10, please contact Brandon Trujillo at 608-228-0371 or brandon.trujillo@wtcsystem.edu. Please defer to your district’s general counsel for questions regarding open meeting laws under Wis. Stats Chapter 19 and 985.

ENROLLMENTS

CLIENT REPORTING SYSTEM

Will there be flexibility in the Client Reporting deadline?

The Client Reporting deadline is driven by federal reporting requirements. The System Office asked our federal partners if reporting deadlines will be extended; at this time there is no indication that deadlines will be changing. We will provide an update when we receive additional information from our federal partners.

If a student withdraws or the college cancels a course, can the college still submit an enrollment record for the student?

Yes, as long as the student was enrolled in the course on the date of record (enrolled through 10% of the total instructional hours).

WTCS has created a new course completion status for these students so they do not impact course completion metrics. Colleges should use course completion status of 98=COVID19 Response. Use this course completion status for students who initiated their own withdrawal in response to COVID-19, and for students who had their courses cancelled by the college. This code will be valid for FY20 only.

ON-LINE COURSE FEE

*Note: The $10 per credit online course fee was suspended by the WTCS Board for 2021-22.

If a college combines two course sections, one planned as face-to-face and moved on-line and one planned as on-line with a $10 on-line course fee, should any student be charged the on-line fee?

No.

In this instance, no student should be charged the $10 on-line course fee. All students enrolled in a single course should pay the same fee.

If a college moves a course from an in-person delivery format to on-line instruction, must they charge the $10 per credit on-line course fee?

No.

The course was not initially set up as an on-line course, and it was not advertised as an on-line course in the college's catalog. The student could not have had the opportunity to look for a course with an alternative delivery format, or known about the fee before registration.

COURSE REPORTING

If a college moves a course from an in-person delivery format to online instruction, does the reporting of the course need to change?

Yes.

Courses that moved to on-line instruction will now need to be submitted in Client Reporting with a non-standard delivery code of hybrid (at least 50% of the instruction but less than 100% of instruction is provided online) or blended (less than 50% of the instruction is provided online).

If your district changed the delivery format to something other than on-line and you’d like to discuss the most appropriate way to report the course, please contact anna.richter@wtcsystem.edu.

COUNTING FTEs

If a college cancels classes or students withdraw, can the college still count those students for FTE purposes?

Yes.

However, the student must have been enrolled in the course for at least 10% of the total instructional hours before it was cancelled or the student withdrew to submit those enrollments.

NOTE: Colleges should continue to submit all ABE and ELL enrollments to the System Office. Total course credits and FTEs for ABE and ELL courses are calculated differently based on the student’s hours of attendance.

STUDENT WITHDRAWS

Can colleges offer a refund if a student withdraws now? The student refund policy allows for a course refund only if a student initiates the refund before 20% of total instructional hours have been completed. Most colleges are close to 50% of the way through the spring term and operating under unique circumstances.

Yes, but the District Board must adopt a policy that allows for it.

TCS 10.08(3)(f) states that districts may adopt policies to waive the time limitations of this section for special circumstances involving unforeseen student hardship. Executive Order #72 Declaring a Public Health Emergency in Response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus proclaims this to be a period of abnormal economic disruption in Wisconsin. Districts can include a public health emergency that causes a period of economic disruption as a special circumstance and provide refunds to students.

It is up to each District policy to determine how much to refund in this situation.

COLLEGE CANCELS A COURSE

If a college cancels a course because in-person classes are suspended and the instruction cannot be provided online, do colleges issue refunds to students?

Yes.

Administrative Rule TSC 10.08(2) states that students shall receive a 100% refund of program and material fees if a course is cancelled by a District.

COLLEGE SHUTS DOWN AND CANCELS ALL REMAINING COURSES

If a college shuts down and cancels all remaining courses, is tuition refunded to students?

Yes.

Administrative Rule TSC 10.08(2) states that students shall receive a 100% refund of program and material fees if a course is cancelled by a district.

EXPENSE TRACKING

Is there a unified account code from WTCS for tracking COVID-19 expenses?

Not at this time.

OPEN MEETINGS

How can colleges assure they are meeting open meeting laws when conducting meetings in a virtual format?

The Office of Open Government, within the Wisconsin Department of Justice, provided guidance on March 17 and March 20, 2020 for assuring that governmental bodies continue to meet the state’s open meetings laws when meeting via teleconference or video conference.

All governmental bodies meeting remotely can and should consider steps that ensure that their meetings remain open and accessible to all members of the public.

Statutorily required notices should provide instructions for how the public may access the remote meeting, including the telephone number, video conference link and any necessary passcodes or other login information.

APPRENTICESHIP

Can technical colleges adapt the modality of related instruction for registered apprentices?

Yes.

The Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards (BAS):

  • defers to each technical college to determine the related instruction modality that best suits local circumstances and community conditions and needs;
  • supports the postponement of related instruction, if conditions warrant; and
  • will amend apprenticeship contracts, as needed, to support the related instruction modality determined by the technical college.

Each college should report changes to related instruction modality – at this time and going forward – to joshua.johnson@dwd.wisconsin.gov, copying the employer/sponsor and appropriate Apprenticeship Training Representative (ATR) on the message.

BAS has notified ATRs that sponsors/employers may decide to not require that apprentices attend related instruction, but it is the responsibility of the apprentice and sponsor/employer to make sure related instruction requirements are met.

  1. S. DEPARTMENT OF ED GUIDANCE

FEDERAL CORONAVIRUS AID, RELIEF, AND ECONOMIC SECURITY (CARES) ACT

Can colleges subgrant Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students under the federal CARES Act?

No.

The Funding Certification and Agreement for Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students under the federal CARES Act specifically states that funds shall be used for the “direct payment of grants to students” and the “recipient holds those funds in trust for students and acts in the nature of a fiduciary.”

Attachment A to the Certification and Agreement states “recipient will comply with the provisions of all applicable acts, regulations and assurances” including Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) 34 CFR part 75.708 which state a grantee may not make a subgrant under a program covered by this part unless authorized by statute or by Federal Register.

At this time, the Department of Education (DOE) has not authorized subgrants in the federal register. We will continue to monitor DOE guidance on this issue.

Is there a specific method for recording revenue received under the Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students under the federal CARES Act?

Yes. UFFAS revenue classification 4998 – Emergency Student Financial Aid.

The Financial & Administrative Manual (FAM) will be updated to reflect this change, including an edit check related to the minimum amount of the funds to be recorded in this classification. Contact michelle.rudman@wtcsystem.edu with questions.

Is there a specific method for recording revenue received under the Emergency Relief Funds to Colleges under the CARES Act?

Yes. UFFAS revenue classification 4999 – Emergency Relief Funds.

The Financial & Administrative Manual (FAM) will be updated to reflect this change. Contact michelle.rudman@wtcsystem.edu with questions.

Has the U. S. Department of Education provided any information or guidance on how to handle disruptions associated with colleges’ response to COVID-19?

Yes.

Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel