Update from President Kurt Dykstra, April 20, 2020

Dear Colleagues:

We really are headed toward the home stretch of the semester – and what a semester it has been!  On Saturday, I saw a local church’s sign emblazoned with “This Moment is Temporary.”  Such a sentiment always is true (moments are, by definition, transient – though perhaps our philosophers have a different take on that) but especially is true right now.  I suspect that, on this sunny April Monday, there are many reading this email who appreciate the reminder that this moment is temporary.  Because, after all, we rejoice in hope, are patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.

I write on this day to provide that encouragement and also to provide some updates.

Below is a message that our students received late last week.  Though it has more direct applicability to students, you might want to take a look at it as well.  At the same time, let me discuss other items for you at this time, noting all the usual caveats:  this is a changing situation week by week (sometimes, day by day or hour by hour).  Your patience for and grace towards one another is commendable and appreciated – and will continue to be in great demand over the coming months.  Please continue to check www.trnty.edu/covid19 for the most up to date collection of information about Trinity’s responses and decisions throughout this pandemic.

Planning for Summer Events – Virtual, Virtual, Virtual!
At this point, it probably is of no surprise that we have made the decision to dramatically scale back – or, more accurately, “pretty much halt” – our summer events on campus, especially in May and June.  You will recall that we previously announced that all summer courses would be offered via on-line instruction.

External concerts and external rentals have also been canceled or postponed.  For some events, especially Admissions-related (see “B” below), we are still holding out some hope that in July it might be possible to have limited on-campus experiences.  However, at this point, please assume that any event scheduled to occur this summer (and certainly in May or June) will happen, if at all, virtually.

Recruiting and Retention Update.
This time of the year is typically the “crunch” season for Fall enrollment.  That remains the case, even in this peculiar time.  Trinity has joined the vast majority of colleges in pushing the normal May 1 deposit deadline to June 1.  We also have moved everything – including visits – to a virtual format.  A newly redesigned visit page is in the works (and should go live in the next 48 hours) that will have more virtual tours of campus and other features tailored to the times.  Your continued assistance in the recruiting process is vital – even more so than when we were in a “normal” environment!

Admitted Student Day and Blueprints have been combined and modified for virtual participation.  More details will be forthcoming, but Admissions/Financial Aid and Student Life have re-imagined Blueprints to be spread over three separate days – Blueprints 101 on May 30; Blueprints 102 on June 20; and Blueprints 103 on July 25.  We do have some hope that BP103 in July might be in person – but (a) time will tell and (b) it is also being designed for a virtual delivery.  The work that these departments, and others, have put into this planning is significant and I am grateful for the work that has been done – and the events that they have designed.  Thank you.

This work is very important!  All year, we have heard tales of significant year-over-year drop-off from many other institutions, which has only accelerated in the last six weeks.  However, Trinity’s first time freshmen deposit numbers are up nearly 25% compared to this time a year ago.  Other categories of new student enrollment are up, too, and not insignificantly, especially in our Adult Undergraduate and Graduate divisions.  April is not August, of course, so there is no time to rest on those laurels – as positive as they are!  Our admissions and financial aid team, assisted across campus, have done magnificent work in a very challenged environment.  Thank you.

We also are very closely monitoring our summer enrollments and fall returning student registrations.  For summer, we have seen a nearly 20% increase in registrations compared to Summer 2019.  And, of the students who are eligible to return in the fall (e.g., excluding May graduating students), only a little more than 10% of that population have not yet registered for classes in the fall.  That percentage is generally in line with “normal” years and, if anything, is slightly better than usual at this particular point in the calendar.  These results are a tribute to so many people, from faculty who teach so well, so the Registrar’s Office, to our Student Support Coaches, to our Retention Committee, to other persons and groups who make a Trinity educational experience so “sticky” (to use a Malcolm Gladwell reference).  Thank you.

CARES Act Information.
I am very pleased to report that Trinity’s application for the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration has been accepted and funded.  We have received over $3 million through this program to fund salaries, utilities, and other permitted expenses under the terms of that stimulus program.  While this is a significant infusion of cash, it is for very particular purposes under the Act and it will quickly be spent over the next few months supporting, among other things, our continued employment.  The PPP link above will send you to more information about the program, but I want to be clear that these funds, while significant, are for very near-term sustaining uses.

Our Human Resources Office, as well as Vice President Jim Belstra, masterfully shepherded us through this very hasty and uncertain PPP process.  Thank you.  (Also, please note that CNB Bank & Trust, through its branch in Palos Heights headed by Palos Heights Mayor, Bob Straz, is our “lender” in this program.  CNB was exceptionally helpful and prompt in our dealings with it, so if you have occasion to express your appreciation to it in any way, please do so.)

Very soon, we hope, we will be receiving the first tranche of the CARES Act funding for higher education.  These dollars are required to be used for student support due to the COVID-19 challenge.  We learned late last week that the U.S. Department of Education will be issuing more guidance on this program sometime this week.

Obviously, with any hurried program, and especially one enacted by an entity the size and complexity of the federal government, there is resulting confusion and ambiguity.  Know that we are moving as expeditiously as possible – while at the same time making sure that we are following the latest dictates of the governmental departments administering these funds.

What does the future hold?
Over the last two months, we have covered much ground.  At first, we took quick and dramatic actions related to the semester, campus operations, and instructional delivery.  Over these last few weeks, some semblance of a “new normal” has settled in, providing opportunity to catch our breath a little, work on our on-going tasks and projects, and also envision various scenarios for the future.  In running terms, the initial sprint is over and now we are setting the pace for the longer race.

In this, it is necessary to plan for the future, and especially the fall, even though there remains great uncertainty.  Trinity is not alone in needing to do this hard work  – and neither is the higher education sector.

Throughout the state, country, and world, people in all sorts of positions – from the small business owner to the highest leaders in the land – are grappling with how and when to “re-open” in the hopes of moving toward a pre-COVID economic and societal environment.  At its core, and especially among those in governmental policy-making positions, this is a balancing of both public health and economic considerations.  Both are valid considerations, neither is independent from the other, and people of goodwill are struggling with how to best balance them to achieve optimal overall results.  At least in my estimation, every option carries with it significant liabilities – liabilities which are “clear” only with the benefit of hindsight.

This surely is a time to pray for our governmental leaders and those “in high positions” as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2!  The choices are not easy and the options appear in varied shades of grey.  Who among us two months ago could have imagined what the last six weeks have brought – or wrought?  Things impossible morphed into things expected in the blink of an eye.

Here at Trinity, all are planning on the fall beginning “normally” with in-person classes and residence halls teeming with students – and at the same time, also planning for alternatives in the event that the College cannot return to usual operations in August.  You may have seen stories last week from Boston University (and then others) about planning for alternate scenarios in the fall if governments restrict normal operations, if economic duress limits families’ options, or if students opt for different opportunities.  Know that these are the sorts of discussions and planning exercises that are happening at Trinity for precisely the same reasons.

If Trinity experiences significant disruptions to housing, new student enrollment, and/or retention of existing students due directly or indirectly to COVID-19, it will have serious ramifications for the College.  I do not wish to cause undue alarm; however, neither can I, in good conscience, leave the impression that Trinity can easily weather a disrupted fall caused by global uncertainty.  This is why our admissions, retention, and advancement work is so vital.

If anything, the pandemic has reminded us of two related truths.  First, there is much in life that we cannot control.  Frankly, this is now vividly apparent in much more of our lives than we would have admitted even a couple short months ago.  Second, we serve a God who loves us immeasurably, knows us intimately, cares for us comprehensively, and is so much more powerful than any epidemiological pandemic or economic retrenchment could ever be.  We are not people who live without hope!

We continue traveling this new ground, an adventure none of us asked for and none of us predicted would occur.  Yet, here we are – and from here we will go.  Extending abundant grace to one another and providing genuine care for one another is a reflection of our character, Trinity’s essential nature, and the love that has been granted to us through Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:12.

Kurt D. Dykstra, President

Back to COVID-19 page