Problem-solving front and center at MCAD

Whittier’s arts college innovates during pandemic

MCAD is preparing for a fall semester that will include both in-person and remote instruction. File photo

Colleges across the U.S. have grappled with dramatic changes to their business models this spring, and that’s been no exception for Southwest Minneapolis’ lone college, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Whittier.

The 721-student school, which has 14 undergraduate programs, three master’s degree programs and 541 full-time staffers, is no stranger to online education, having held its first online class in 1996. All students are equipped with the same laptops and software programs.

While many classes easily adapted to online learning, some professors and teachers made significant adjustments, vice president of academic affairs Karen Wirth said.

“We’re all doing this tremendous amount of problem-solving,” she said.

The school’s 3D shop staff, for example, created videos showing students how to build sculptures from home. A graphic design professor connected students with “big-name” international designers for a senior project, Wirth said.

MCAD is also offering graduating students two free continuing-education courses.

Like other U.S. colleges, MCAD is preparing for a fall semester that could be delayed or include social distancing. Communications and marketing vice president Annie Gillette Cleveland said the priority is to have kids on campus.

The school expects to receive about $800,000 from the federal stimulus bill, half of which will go to students. Wirth said the school has not tapped into its endowment, which stood at $55.6 million after 2017-18, to cover shortfalls.

Cleveland declined to say whether MCAD faces a budget gap for the current school year, but she said the school is planning to ensure expenses and revenue matches next year.

While MCAD’s financial statements from last school year aren’t readily available, previous year’s statements indicate that the school is financially sound. Revenues outpaced expenses by $3.1 million in 2017-18, $1.6 million in 2016-17 and $1.9 million in 2015-16, and the endowment grew by $7.7 million between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

MCAD has also extended its admission-decision deadline to June 1 from May 1, though Cleveland said freshmen enrollment is “tracking to last year.”

“Artists have a reputation to wait until the last second,” she said. “We know there’s going to be a big uptick at the end. There’s still a desire for these kids to go to college.”

Like many colleges, MCAD has offered students the chance to take courses on a pass-fail basis this spring, though a lot of students stuck with the traditional grading scale, Wirth said. The school did not refund students for tuition but is refunding housing, student-activity fees and fees for classroom materials, meal plans and its nonprofit supplies store on a prorated basis.

An emergency-assistance fund to cover student needs raised about $120,000 as of early May.