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Minnesota West to remain open

WORTHINGTON -- Even if the state government shuts down, Minnesota West Community and Technical College will continue operating -- by spending its reserves.

"We have with us a little over $5 million at the college. Just using our own money alone, we can stay open about two and a half months," said Richard Shrubb, president of Minnesota West. "Lord a-mighty, I hope they come to an agreement in that amount of time, but really, the clock starts ticking July 1."

Layoff notices sent to Minnesota West employees and other workers in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have been rescinded, and classes will continue as planned, MnSCU officials announced. No delays in processing financial aid for students are anticipated.

Though extremely grateful for the reprieve, Shrubb said Minnesota West already suffered consequences of the shutdown scare, as students looked to enroll in educational institutions in neighboring states, private schools and federal land grant universities -- all of which would have been unaffected by the shutdown.

"I'm afraid that students trying to be on the safe side enrolled in those colleges," Shrubb said, though he noted he didn't have any numbers on how many students Minnesota West lost. "If people are looking at several colleges and one of them is going to shut down, they'll just automatically exclude that from their consideration."

At least one student confirmed she had signed up for classes in Sioux Falls because of the threatened shutdown, said Dennis Hampel, dean of Minnesota West's Jackson campus.

Prior to learning the school would not be closed, Hampel was most worried about Minnesota West's power line program, which 52 students would have started after the July 4 holiday, at the start of the school's second summer session.

"We were in limbo here for a little bit because had we not been allowed to begin the session, those students wouldn't have had a place, so we would have had to either move the start date back or cancel that particular session," Hampel said.

Even the possibility of the shutdown cost Minnesota West, largely in staff time. Shrubb alone spent about three weeks doing almost nothing but preparing for a shutdown, and the rest of the school's senior staff spent at least a week on the project.

"If you calculate the cost, that's pretty high. While I was doing that, I couldn't do anything else -- that's a productivity loss," Shrubb explained. "(But) in fact I think it was a good exercise for us, because we can still use those plans we made for a natural disaster or something that environmentally hits this school hard, like a pandemic or ... a tornado."

Students were relieved to hear their work would not be affected by the looming shutdown.

"I have a year left," said Shawna Christians of Adrian, who is in the radiologic technology program at the Luverne learning center. "If it closed, I'd have to go (to school) somewhere else or go somewhere else and find a job."

Christians said she was glad to stay at Minnesota West and relieved she wouldn't have to start over with her two-year program.

"I couldn't believe the state would shut down our colleges. It's just not good news to students, and it's definitely not good news for employees either," said Sally Sieve, instructor and clinical coordinator of the radiologic technology program. "I was just upset with the state... not so much for me. I could have handled being laid off for a little bit, but I felt bad for our students and what might have happened to them."

Sieve did not receive a layoff notice, but was still extremely relieved to hear of Minnesota West's reprieve. Some of her students are scheduled to graduate in July, but would not have met the requirements for graduation had the school closed July 1. Some already have jobs waiting for them -- all dependent on graduating from school.

"It would have been a nightmare," Sieve said. "I'm glad it didn't happen."