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September 2020 Q&A Session with President Kusch and PEC

Question: Will you allow Professional Business Management to be a bachelor degree this coming year, starting January 2021?

President Kusch: Here would be my message to any of those students: come now. You can come now. Come in January. We will not have a formal offering of our bachelor's degrees until the Fall of 2021, which is what our Board approved, and is what the accreditor has approved. But these degrees have received accreditation approval, so they are immediately part of our accreditation as an institution.

We want you to know that anything you start now would count towards the requirements of these new degrees. So, if someone wants to come in 2021 and start working on the requirements to satisfy the Business Management degree, they can certainly do that. There's no reason to hesitate. Those students can come and find a very welcoming place here at Ensign College.

Question: If I graduate with my associate’s degree this semester, can I continue to take credits next semester to get my BAS degree?

President Kusch: My response would be to talk to an advisor and a faculty member that is involved with what you want to study, and find out what you're able to do that way. I think if you are graduating in December, you'd basically have one semester in the Winter of classwork before starting the requirements in the Fall. Assuming that you took the Spring off at the break, that is. Hopefully, the answer would be yes, that you would be able to stay. We actually hope that many students will now start to stay and realize that they don't have to transfer if what we're offering in our bachelor's program is available now.

Question: Will more bachelor's degrees be added? I'm in the interior design program, and it seems perfectly suited to transition to a BAS degree.

Tim Sloan: That's a great question and I'm glad it was asked because that interior design program is great. Let me just say that for now we've been approved for three degrees, and we're not even out of the gate on the three that have been approved already. Based on the feedback from the Board of Trustees, that's all that's going to be approved for now, but in the future could we consider an Interior Design degree. It could be considered as well as any other degree, but for now, only three have been approved.

I think we have to prove in terms of enrollment, quality of instruction and graduation rates, on the three that we offer before we consider any other expansion. The interior design degree currently is designed to meet the certification requirements of NCIDQ, which is sufficient, from what I understand, to get a good job. So, for now, we're not considering any others. We still have to get these three implemented, and we’ve got to do them right before we consider any others.

Question: Would it be possible, perhaps once a semester or even once per year, to hold one of the live training events for faculty in the evening so adjunct instructors could participate? I love watching the events after the fact, but it would be great to participate live. It would help those of us at work during the day to feel more like we're a real part of the campus community.

Tim Sloan: I think that's a very fair question that was asked given the number of adjunct teachers that we've got to have a live training. Unfortunately, we just did have a training faculty workshop that historically has always been live, and it has been in the evening, but we couldn't do that in the way we've done it in the past. The program chairs and the department chairs did do it live through Zoom. I would ask Leslie and Troy to take this to the Learning and Teaching Council, and consider ways that we might do something in the evenings. Maybe it's once a semester, maybe it's more because I think it's only fair. We do want to be engaged with you and we want to be connected with all the adjuncts. However, having said that, I also want to mention that we’re very dependent upon the department and program chairs to meet on a frequent basis with all the adjuncts. In each training that they've received, they are to pass that on to their adjuncts, hopefully it’s at least once a month, if not more, so that as they get trained. Thank you for wanting to be connected and wanting to learn and stay current. We welcome that. But as far as faculty wide, we'll look at that to see what can we offer in the evening. In the meantime, every adjunct should be participating in some kind of training that they get from their program chair.

Question: I have one on-campus class every other week, and we had the first class on Friday. There were some students not wearing masks, and I have many concerns about this because I have parents that are over 85. I also take care of in several family members that have contracted COVID-19. How strictly is the school enforcing masks, and if I don't feel comfortable going to my class what is my recourse?

President Kusch: I can jump in and just indicate that employees are to be wearing masks all the time when we're in a public setting or in a setting where we need to be socially distant. So, we should be wearing masks all the time. When students do go to the student services on the second floor, whether it's Financial or Student Aid, if you could please wear masks because we do have plexiglass set up, but it helps those who are working there who are wearing masks, to feel more comfortable and confident. When everyone is wearing a mask, some of our students are tall enough that the plexiglass is underneath where they're speaking. So, you should be reminded to wear masks in those situations.

Tim Sloan: Yes, we are asking students to wear masks. This is consistent with any state and local guidelines in public settings. It's for their safety as well as everyone else's. So, yes, those students should wear masks, and if the student is concerned about other students not wearing them, my suggestion would be to talk to a faculty member, talk to your teacher. We have to rely on the teachers to require students to wear masks.

Question: When will we expect to see different courses required to earn the degrees?

President Kusch: All of these will be in the new academic catalog which will be published next Spring for the 2021-22 academic year. That information will be coming soon.

Question: As Ensign College grows, what are the growing pains that you are anticipating, and what are you looking forward to?

President Kusch: I'm looking forward to growing pains because that will be a sign of progress. Now, what might those growing pains be? One of them which most of the students won't see will be the fact that, really beginning next Fall, and perhaps in the early and mid parts of 2021, we will be enrolling online degree-seeking BYU-Pathway Worldwide students as Ensign College students. That is going to cause some growing pains for our folks in Student Services, in Admissions, Enrollment and Financial Aid.

As we began the semester last week, we had over 2,500 BYU-Pathway Worldwide students enrolled in Ensign College online courses that are not part of our enrollment this year, but will be part of our enrollment next year. I don't expect we're going to have a nearly more than 300% increase between this year and next year, but those 2,500 students this Fall might be 3,500 next Fall. Those will be students that will be enrolled as Ensign College students, and these are things we've never done before. So, there will be some growing pains in that area. We will be serving students that will never come to our campus and Salt Lake City. I think some of our other growing pains will just come as we anticipate enrollment increasing. I think we're going to have some programs that will be very high in demand. For example, our accounting program. We will be able to train certified management accountants. We think that will be a very attractive program because it's the only program in the state of Utah that trains certified management accountants. It is the only program in the Church that's training certified management accountants, and so I think when people become more aware of that, I think we'll see people come. How we handle enrollment growth will certainly be an area of growing pain. I think that also, from my experience many years ago now at BYU-Idaho, teaching 300- and 400-level classes will stretch our faculty, which will be a wonderful challenge for them. They're very capable. They'll be able to do it without any questions, but teaching at the 300 and 400 level is different from teaching at the 100 and 200 level. We have the requirement for all of our students to do an internship. So that's going to cause some growing pains for Brother Bagley and his folks in our Career and Internship Services groups to find opportunities for all of our students to do internships, but these are all wonderful things. So, I look forward to growing things because they will be signs of progress. If there aren't growing pains as we go through this, then something won't be happening in exactly the way that we had hoped that it would.

We've gone through growing pains already. We've been stretched as an institution. We've done a lot of things. It would have been challenging enough to do the things that we've done in a normal environment. But you throw COVID-19 into the mix, and when you include the fact that we are preparing for our year-seven accreditation self-evaluation visit, we have accomplished remarkable things in a relatively short period of time. I've said this before, but I want to say this for the benefit of any students that are participating this afternoon, hat we have witnessed is, in my opinion, nothing short of a miracle. And the Lord has magnified us as an institution. He has magnified our financial resources to do things that were necessary for us to do, and most importantly, he has magnified the talent of every single one of our employees who have been stretched to do the things that we've had to do. It not come easily. It hasn’t come without a lot of effort, but the Lord has been out in front leading the way and opening doors and the path to be able to accomplish these things. Getting degrees accredited in five or six months is something that just doesn't happen generally in higher education. So, the fact that we've been able to do that is a credit to our employees and to everyone that's been a part of it. I just hope that we can recognize what the Lord has done in helping us and making all of this possible.

Question: Is there a threshold in place that would tip the scales and cause a closure of the College and force all classes to go to Zoom before the plans shift at Thanksgiving?

Tim Sloan: Yes, there is a way. Brady is probably the best person to answer in terms of numbers, but we are monitoring those who self-declare that they've tested positive. If there is a certain number of those, then certainly we consider all kinds of precautions, including the most drastic of closing the school down temporarily. Also, if a student self-declares and they’ve been confirmed to be in a class, that class will go on through Zoom. I think more importantly, what is so comforting about our situation here is that compared to other schools, we have very few that are interfacing on campus. The vast majority of our students, approximately 88%, are essentially off campus. So, the numbers, the quantity that will be interfacing here isn't what it is on another schools. So, that's good. And I think with all the precautions that Brady's team have taken in terms of following the hygiene protocols have been very beneficial for us. There are some that are not wearing masks properly. It probably warrants some signage to remind students. That goes for all of us. If we see students not wearing them properly or taking them off the hallway, we should remind them they need to keep their masks on and wear them properly.

Mark Richards: We have set a guideline that if we have, as a school, 50 cases over a rolling 30-day period, then that's when we would close the campus. This would not be a student or a faculty who's only working remotely, it only applies to those who are actually on campus. If someone in a class experiences COVID-19, and that person is here on campus, then there would be a 14-day quarantine for that class.

Question: What's the criteria for us to resume classes in the building for Winter semester, and when will we be notified of the plan for Winter semester?

Mark Richards: At this point in time, as you know, we could make a decision today and we could tell you what we're planning to do today for Winter, but because of the unpredictability of COVID, it's really difficult to say this is what we'll do and it won't change. We’ve just seen a dramatic increase in cases in the state of Utah now today. It was about 400 less than it was, and 500 less than it was a few days ago, so there’s no trend. It's very, very difficult to know. There's nothing magical about the end of a calendar year to say, okay, as of December 31, we can hit a new start button, and we go forward under new rules. We just don't know. COVID is certainly independent of the calendar, but I think we feel very good about the model that we have created and implemented for the Fall semester with a combination of Zoom classes, online classes, hybrid classes and some classes that have to be face-to-face, but the number of classes that have to be face-to-face are actually quite small. The majority of our students this semester are either enrolled in general classes or online classes.

If we had to make a statement today about Winter, I think given what we know today, we would say we will continue the model in Winter that we have implemented for Fall because it seems to be working. Now, is it possible that things would change between now and the Winter, and we could say that circumstances have changed and we can have more classes back on campus? Yes, I suppose that is possible, but the other challenge is that because we have to plan, we have to make a decision based on what we see today. And what we see today is what we have to assume is going to continue. So, that makes it really difficult because what we see today is possibly not what we see tomorrow or next week or next month. We're doing the best we can.

Tim Sloan: What we learned in the Winter semester as well as the Spring semester is that we are nimble enough in our faculty, or adaptive enough to make any pivots that we have to. What we're doing now for Fall we will likely do in Winter, but built into that is the ability to make a pivot to go 100% Zoom if we need to. We only have 12% of our classes that are offered face-to-face. Now that's full face-to-face as opposed to the hybrid method where one class is face-to-face in one class and Zoom in another. We have 18% of our classes like that. It's 60% of all of our classes. So, we're already there. If we needed to go to 100% Zoom in the winter, we can make that pivot pretty easily. We'll prepare for that in case we need to, but we don't know. We just don't know. Winter may be a pretty safe semester, relatively. So, we don't know yet, but we're prepared.

Question: How has this experience with COVID changed the way that we do business? If and when we get back to normal are there practices that we began during COVID that we'll continue to utilize because we found that they work efficiently?

President Kusch: It's a great question, and I'm not sure I have a very specific answer. I think, generally, we have learned a lot about working under difficult circumstances. There was a comment that was made at our College Council meeting this morning about a feeling of unity and teamwork as the new semester began that we hadn't previously seen. I'm hoping that in important ways, that could be both individual and collective. We have learned to be, perhaps, a little more kind, a little more patient, a little more tolerant. I used this term the week before last when we had our Fall Workshop for all of our employees, which was, I think that to some degree, we're all suffering a little bit from COVID fatigue and Zoom fatigue.

I was talking with a good friend of mine over the weekend who happens to be my bishop, and those that are in leadership roles have had to learn to operate pretty much exclusively on Zoom, and that’s going to continue to some degree. I think we all get a little wary of that, and he talked about how the youth in particular are just Zoomed out. They just don't want one more Zoom quorum meeting or one more Zoom young women's activity or what have you. I hope that what we've learned is to be a little more patient and a little more kind.

Are there specific practices that we found that we might change? That's an ongoing conversation. We've had that conversation a little bit with our College Council. I would invite the unit vice presidents to have this conversation in your units. Ask, what have we learned and what should we change and what could be improved as a result of what we’ve learned. And then those things can also be shared at an institutional basis. I think we've learned a lot about productivity. I think we've hopefully learned some things about working together and maybe eliminating some distractions. It may not be a very specific answer, but I think that the lessons will continue. I think that if we don't look for the spiritual lessons in this, we will have missed an opportunity that the Lord provided for all of us to learn – important things personally and spiritually. This isn't just about temporal things. You look at the way that under President Nelson's leadership, the Church, families and individuals were prepared for what came without knowing specifically what would come. I think we learned a valuable lesson in the importance of following the prophet. I was just reading this morning as I began this week the Come, Follow Me lesson where the Lord was telling the Nephites how important it was to follow what the twelve disciples that he called would teach them. Specifically, He talked about the importance of believing in Him and repenting and being baptized, but the importance and how it would save them if the people would listen to the things that those twelve disciples taught them. I think that's a principle that can apply to us. Following the prophets and the things they teach us, making sure that we conform our will to God.

Question: What's the difference between online and Zoom?

Tim Sloan: Online is typically an asynchronous program you do over the course of the semester. It may have elements that are synchronous, depending on how the course is designed. Zoom is 100% live. It's where you have upwards of 25 students with the teacher, and you see each other just like we see each other right now.

President Kusch: I thank you for participating. Thank you for all that you're doing. Students that are on this call, please know that we love you – that you're in our thoughts and prayers. We want to make sure that you and all of our employees are safe. We recognize that none of us are immune from some of the challenges and from the things that are happening in and around about us, but I just want you to know how very, very excited I am as we begin this semester.

This is an exciting time in the history of Ensign College. The Lord has been very good to us and very kind with what the First Presidency has approved for us as we go forward. I witness that the Lord is helping us. He's guiding us, and He's aware of every one of us. He is blessing us in remarkable ways, and I leave that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.