Joining us on this episode is Beth Anderson, the CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER of Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College.
Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College have six locations located in Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi. They are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Bob Martin: This edition of Imagine America Radio, we’re joined by Beth Anderson, chief operating officer for Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical Colleges.
Beth, let’s start out the conversation with the listeners, if you wouldn’t mind, very briefly outlining your strategy, to our listeners, of Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical Colleges that is done to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic. Could you briefly outline that for us, please?
Beth Anderson: Sure. Back in March, when we determined that it was best to close our campus completely due to the COVID-19, we actually reconfigured our break schedule and gave our students a two-week break in March. And during that two weeks, we moved everything (curriculum-wise) to an online platform for each program. And so, on March 30th, we brought students back gradually and got them signed onto our online platforms, and we were able to continue their education, as far as theory, on those online platforms.
Lee Doubleday: Okay. Now, for the purposes of this episode, we’re trying to inform our listeners of your reopening strategy. Now, I’m assuming this is something that might vary state by state, but can you briefly explain what the reopening strategy is? Is this something that’s maybe broken into stages? Can you kind of just talk about which states you’ve already—maybe you’ve already opened some of your classes—and how is this sort of working out?
Beth: Yes. And actually, it has varied by state. The states of Mississippi and Missouri were able to open sooner than our campuses in Illinois. So in May, we were able to gradually reopen Mississippi and Missouri, and what we did was bring back students that technically should have graduated over the previous two months when we were on the online platforms: We brought them back into the buildings first and gave them our attention right away so that we could get them through the skills, the actual hands-on skills that they weren’t able to achieve while online. We brought them back so that they could start working on their job search and go to work as soon as they were ready to do that and comfortable doing that. From there, we started bringing in the rest of the students. We are 100% open in those two states, Mississippi and Missouri. In Illinois, we weren’t able to open until early July and, again, we did the same gradual approach, where we brought in students that either should have or were getting ready to graduate. We brought them in and we have had to do some hybrid, a little bit, based on staffing and so—but for the most part, mechanical trades, they are 100% in the building, in their shops. And with allied health, we do have a couple of situations where we’ve done a hybrid of online and lab. But for the most part, we have 100% of our students in the building every day.
Lee: I like what you said there about kind of taking care of the students who were supposed to graduate right before all this stuff sort of hit, and taking care of them first and then get them through, and then now focusing on the new students or the other students. So, tell me, what are some of the procedures that your campuses are setting in place to make sure that the classrooms are effectively cleaned for a safe learning environment?
Beth: Well, we have each instructor—each classroom—has disinfectant. And every time a student class moves through, leaves for the day, then the classroom is cleaned by the instructors. Our maintenance department obviously cleans several times a day, making sure bathrooms are clean, classrooms are clean, and all those things. We also have hand sanitizer available in every room and there’s plenty of signage around to remind people to stay clean, social distance, and all that.
Lee: That’s great. I’m glad that—and I’m sure your students appreciate all the efforts that you’re taking to make sure that they’re safe while they’re there.
Beth: Yes, yes. And we actually did quite a bit of deep cleaning while the students were off for that two months, when we initially went online. So a lot of our campuses got fresh paint and obviously were deep cleaned during that time.
Lee: Oh, wow. Fresh paint too. Okay. Cool.
Okay, so one common thing that I’m hearing from a number of our schools that we’re interviewing during this process, is that there’s actually some things that have come out of COVID-19 that are positive. Now whether that be establishing a stronger online admissions process, or classroom procedures, online learning, etc. What are a few things that Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College will be taking away from this pandemic?
Beth: We definitely will be taking away the virtual admissions and financial aid process as a bigger component of what we do. We had dipped our toe in it prior to COVID, and then obviously we were forced to do that—and our call center as well. And our call center actually remains remote, we haven’t really brought—we’ve tried to keep our population at our campuses manageable, as far as the social distancing and such. So the call center is an area where we saw—as well as admissions and financial aid—that we saw success with them working remote, so we’ve continued that until very recently. But again that’s something that we know we can continue on with if there’s a turnover at a campus or shortage at a campus, we have a virtual rep that can be there, and we have a lot of confidence in that process now because of COVID.
We also have realized that some of our allied health programs could potentially be offered in a hybrid setting. We do feel strongly that our mechanical trades programs need to be on the ground at the campuses because it’s a lot of shop and hands-on—but as far as allied health goes, we do feel like we could eventually offer theory online, but yet still bring them in for labs—but something we’ll be looking at in the future.
Lee: Yeah. I think as we’re interviewing a number of these schools, that’s sort of a common thing that the schools are taking away, is that not only does it sort of improve your online admissions process, but I think that the student on the other end of that is sort of expecting some of these hybrid models or instant online admissions assistance. Especially coming out of this COVID-19 pandemic, they’re sort of expecting this moving forward. And so I think it’s great that that was one of your key takeaways, as I think that students are going to be expecting that from their educational institutions.
Bob: We’re talking to Beth Anderson, chief operating officer for Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College. I want to spin off on what you said, if you don’t mind, on the hands-on—because I think that’s critical with regard to schools like yours. So why don’t you take just a minute and tell us why you think that particular aspect of your training is important, that being the hands-on side of it, please.
Beth: Okay, yeah. It’s competency-based learning. All of our programs—there’s a list of competencies and those are hands on skills that we train our students on how to do. They watch the instructor, that’s an expert in that program, demonstrate those things, and then they’re expected to demonstrate the same thing for their instructor until they’re competent at it so that when we send them out to externship and out in the allied health fields, or to a job for welding and HVAC, they have those skills. They’re able to do those skills at an entry-level, at minimum. They come to us to learn a skill or trade with their hands. That’s what we pride ourselves on. So we need to focus on that, even though we can offer them some theory online. Really, the hands-on training is what we promised our students. And so we feel very, very much that we need to be able to get them through that in order for them to be successful in their skill.
Bob: Beth, some things you just—I mean online is fantastic. I’m old enough that I still struggle a little bit with online and technology. Lee’s sitting here laughing as he’s looking at me, but I do. But it’s absolutely the differentiator with schools like yours. And I’m so glad that you brought it up, because there are certain things that are great for online—fantastic for online. Maybe we should have been doing it long time ago—but there’s certain things that you just got to do, and you got to repeat it, and you got to practice it, and you got to be with experienced people that can give you advice on how you’re doing it. And in welding and in those technical trades there are just those kinds of things. Would you agree?
Beth: Yes, absolutely.
Bob: Well let me go on to one other thing which I think is we—before we close this thing down—I think it’s absolutely critical that we would like you, if you wouldn’t mind, Beth, real quickly just telling us how is Midwest Tech and Delta Tech educating students (and informing potential new students) on what the protocols are that are in place for safety measures that are being taken? Because I’m sure our listeners are going to sit out there and go, “Who’s watching, who’s making sure that my son or my husband or my cousin is informed about these things and is heeding them?”
Beth: Yeah. And we do communicate with our students through email, as well as social media, on what our—and also on our website—as far as what we are doing. We are doing temperature checks at the door before every shift of students come in and sending anyone home that has a temperature 100 degrees or above. Obviously, handwashing is imperative as well as using the hand sanitizer. And so there are many, many signs in the bathrooms, in the hallways, just reminding people of how important that hygiene is. And then we also—our instructors—we have done some training with them as far as safety and hygiene so that they can be good role models, and they can—they’re talking about it all the time, as well, with their students. We have a sandwich board at all of our lobbies. So the first thing anyone, whether they’re a visitor or a student, first thing they see when they come into the campus is all the things that we’re doing: the temperature checks, the handwashing, hand sanitizer, cleaning the classrooms. So—and obviously we’re all wearing masks. If you’re in the hallway, if you leave your office or you have someone in your office, everyone has a mask on. And I will tell you that that’s followed 100%. So we, and again, we have that on social media, and we are trying to make sure—we want people to be comfortable here, so it’s very important to us. It’s important to us that our employees feel safe as well, so it’s a big deal.
Bob: We’ve had an absolutely great conversation with Beth Anderson, chief operating officer of Midwest Tech. We want to thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule—but more importantly, we want to thank Midwest Tech and Delta Tech for the commitment to safety and education of their students, because their success in the past has been commitment to the student. Their success in the future is going to be sustaining that in this COVID environment. We just want to commend you for what you’ve done and how you’re leading the way in helping students get prepared for the jobs of the future, adapt to this COVID-19 situation, and get good jobs going forward. Thank you very much for the time you spent with us today.
Beth: Thank you.