Message from President Phipps re: Commencement, refunds and other important news 03.24.20

Dear Messiah students, parents and employees:

I hope that this email finds you and your families safe and well as we near the end of undergraduate spring break, and as the Messiah community prepares to resume spring term with our first day of online undergraduate classes tomorrow. We began this new direction last week when I announced on March 16 that—in light of the statewide and national states of emergency and their directives regarding social distancing—Messiah College would be conducting all undergraduate and graduate coursework online for the remainder of its spring semester. I also acknowledged that this announcement would certainly generate many additional questions from students and their families, and promised to answer as many of these questions as possible by the end of spring break.

Since that time, there have been several new developments that continue to inform our planning, including the continued spread of COVID-19 in our surrounding region and Governor Wolf’s directive for all of Pennsylvania’s non-essential businesses to close. Even in the midst of these quickly shifting circumstances, I’m pleased that our campus leadership team has been able to competently care for the safety and needs of our students and employees, and to answer some of our campus community’s most pressing questions, including:

  • Practicums, clinicals, internships and student teaching: Our educators and administrators have been working diligently to ensure that students who are engaged in practicums, clinicals, internships and student teaching have the opportunity to complete alternate or remote/virtual experiences that will enable them to graduate and/or finish their semester on time. By now, students should have been contacted with pertinent details from the director or administrator of their individual program. Students who have additional questions should continue to communicate with the Messiah educator or administrator who is coordinating their specific program.
  • Undergraduate and Graduate Commencement: Last week, I shared with students and parents via my video message that Messiah was committed to celebrating the Undergraduate and Graduate Classes of 2020—and that we will be scheduling an in-person ceremony as soon as it is safe for us to do so. This continues to be our plan, and I look forward to celebrating with you. However, as directives continue to emerge from state and national public health authorities—Messiah’s leadership team has made the decision to officially postpone the School of Graduate Studies Commencement scheduled for May 9, and the Undergraduate Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies scheduled for Friday, May 15, and Saturday, May 16. We share the disappointment of our graduates and their families, but it was important to make this decision as soon as possible for families’ planning needs, and to help families apply for travel refunds. The College is processing viable alternative dates for celebrating our graduating seniors and graduate students, and will announce rescheduled Commencement events when it is prudent.
  • Undergraduate student move-out: Last week, our residence life team was also able to communicate with undergraduate students and parents regarding the schedule and procedures for how students may return to campus to pick up their belongings and move out of their student residences. However, the decision to postpone undergraduate Commencement now necessitates the following change to the move-out schedule announced last week:
    • Our housing check-out process will continue in the same way as previously announced, except that all students, including graduating seniors, must now be checked out of their room/apartment/house by May 2. Students must sign up for a check-out time by April 14. Students can either do an in-person check-out with their RD (by signing up using the link their RD sent via email), or by doing an express check-out (fill out the form here).  Links to this form, and additional information may be found on the residence life website.
  • Note: we will continue to monitor state and national directives, and this schedule is subject to change pending those outcomes. If you are in a county/state that is affected by a “stay-home” or “shelter in place” restriction, we encourage you to sign up for as late a move-out date as possible, in anticipation that situation may change. If those directives, however, remain in place, the College will work with those impacted families as necessary. Any changes to this schedule would be announced on the residence life website, the emergency blog, and an email to students and their families.
  • Refunds for room and board: President’s Cabinet has been working to develop a balanced and equitable solution during this truly unprecedented time of difficulty for students and their families. As a result, Messiah College plans to offer refunds for room and board losses to all students who were required to depart campus. Students who participated in our Dining Dollars or Ala Carte dining plans will receive a cash refund for their unused dining dollars/meal plan balance as of March 16, 2020. For room fees paid, graduating seniors will receive a pro-rated cash refund, and other undergraduate students will have the option of a pro-rated cash refund or a pro-rated credit that will be applied to future semesters. Administrators will be in touch with all impacted students prior to April 15, 2020, and we are committed to issuing refunds no later than May 1, 2020.
  • May Term, IBI and other summer travel: The College has made the informed decision to cancel all May Term 2020 cross-cultural trips, this year’s International Business Institute, and all other summer service and missions trips through the end of June 2020. Students who were registered for these courses/experiences were notified yesterday by their respective educators. The College will be refunding the deposit and any trip fees that students have already paid. For those trips that were credit-bearing—Messiah will provide alternate course credit opportunities for graduating seniors and other eligible students toward on-time completion or progression of their degree. This decision was not made lightly, and we realize the loss of this experience for our students. Messiah highly values the transformational learning that occurs in cross-cultural and other experiential contexts. And while our current global circumstances do not allow us to travel internationally, we are committed to fulfill those educational objectives by providing students with other innovative learning opportunities.
  • Further restriction of all college-sponsored travel: In response to the rapidly changing directives related to the spread of COVID-19, Messiah College is extending its previously announced restriction of all college-sponsored travel, both international and domestic, through June 30, 2020 (previously restricted through May 16, 2020).

Tomorrow, the Messiah community will begin to navigate some significant “educational waters.” As we virtually learn together, our campus borders will be erased in a truly extraordinary way. During the past two weeks, I have observed incredible dedication, adaptability, ingenuity and collaboration on the part of our faculty, staff, administrators and students as we prepare to engage “such a time as this.” I am grateful and proud to be your president. Messiah College is a remarkable Christian educational community.

The College will continue to communicate with you on an ongoing basis via the emergency blog at www.messiah.edu/emergency, and I will continue to reach out to students every Thursday via video to stay connected, and to remind you that there is an entire Messiah team of educators, staff and administrators who are committed to your success! Watch for other opportunities as well to experience Messiah’s “virtual community,” especially on our institutional social media channels.

Messiah College’s mission to educate students with excellence toward maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith continues without disruption. Please continue to pray for and support each other with patience and grace, and let’s do all that we can to support our neighbors and those in need.

Warmest regards,

Kim Phipps, president