Registration is open for both in-person and online summer and fall courses at Flathead Valley Community College, which will be welcoming more staff, teachers and students to campus in the coming weeks following a prolonged period of predominantly remote learning.
Students wrapped up online final exams this week, capped off by a May 15 virtual graduation ceremony. The community college recognized 339 students graduating with a total of 370 degrees. In addition to the virtual ceremony, the graduates are invited to return next year to walk across the stage for an in-person commencement.
“It’s hard for all of us, not just students,” FVCC President Jane Karas said of forgoing the traditional ceremony due to COVID-19. “Everyone on campus appreciates the importance of the commencement and what it means to our students as a way to celebrate their achievements and hard work.”
The first session of summer courses begins on May 26, and Karas said students interested in registering should contact the college right away. For students wanting to return to a classroom setting, there will be in-person teaching available on campus. For those who aren’t ready to return yet or have scheduling conflicts, online and remote options will also be offered.
Karas said instructors, like many students, are excited to get back into the classroom, although she emphasized that strict coronavirus precautionary measures will be in place, including social distancing, spacing, capacity considerations and enhanced sanitation. The college similarly plans to hold in-person instruction in the fall, offered in combination with remote and online options.
Through the pandemic, FVCC has conducted as much of its instruction online or remotely as possible, although some classes such as welding required in-person work with health and safety guidelines in place. Karas said staff and instructors teaching remotely also have gone out of their way to contact students individually, which she said is a reflection of the college’s broader approach to fostering student relationships.
“We do get to know our students and know what their needs are and provide them with support services to help them be successful,” Karas said. “It’s the culture of FVCC. I think we’re pretty unique in our focus on each individual student’s success.”
While colleges and universities nationwide have voiced concerns over the pandemic’s long-term impacts on student retention and general operations, FVCC has unique circumstances that may offer a degree of clarity, including that 85% of students are from Flathead and Lincoln counties, as well as the state’s low per-capita number of COVID-19 cases.
“Certainly we appreciate students who come from other parts of the state and some from out of state, but as a community college the majority of our students are local,” she said. “Our focus and priority is on helping local students and employers in our community succeed.”
Karas said FVCC could potentially be more attractive to prospective students in the fallout of the pandemic, as people who were considering out-of-state college may opt to stay home and pursue post-secondary education at an affordable local institution. The college offers numerous courses that are transferable to colleges and universities across the state and country, as well as career and technical degree programs.
“FVCC is a great opportunity to get some really high-level education that is transferable anywhere at a really affordable price,” she said.
Crews have also broken ground on FVCC’s new Paul D. Wachholz College Center, which received much of its funding from an $18 million fundraising drive completed in 2019. The college then launched an Encore Campaign to raise additional money to expand the performance hall from 750 to 1,000 seats.
The 58,000-square-foot center will include a multi-purpose activity complex, art and exhibition gallery, outdoor amphitheater and performance hall with world-class acoustics. It’s named after Paul Wachholz, the local businessman who donated $4 million to the project.
The FVCC Board of Trustees unanimously voted on March 12 to approve Swank Enterprises to lead construction. After pausing fundraising over the pandemic, the college is reengaging the campaign with goal of raising $2 million more. The center is slated for completion by January 2022.
“We think it will really be a linchpin in the community and provide new opportunities for economic success in the valley,” Karas said.
Course schedules are online at fvcc.edu/course-schedules. Students who are new to FVCC must complete the free admission application process before registering at fvcc.edu/apply. For more information, call 756-3880 or email email@example.com.