Chance for free year at Concordia College offers students opportunities lost during pandemic, leaders say | INFORUM

Local News 25-11-2020 IN FORUM 27

The coronavirus pandemic had other plans.

“It fell through because of COVID,” he said Monday, Nov. 23.

The nutrition and exercise science student isn’t alone, said Karl Stumo, Concordia vice president for enrollment and marketing. Others at the college of roughly 1,900 students lost the opportunity to participate in internships because of the pandemic.

It’s why the private school offered students and incoming freshmen a free year of education after their anticipated graduation date, Stumo said.

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“They get some extra time to pursue interests,” he said. “If the pandemic allows for a more normal college experience next fall, ... they get that choice. And they do that at no additional expense in tuition.”

Dubbed the Cobber Flex Year, the program allows eligible students to use two semesters to pursue additional degrees or certificates, as well as internships and other opportunities canceled by the pandemic. Cobber Flex was announced in early November, and 99 students had applied when the application period closed Friday, Nov. 20, the school said.

Students will find out at a later date if they were chosen for the program.

The program is part of efforts by Concordia to make college more affordable. The school announced in September it would cut its annual tuition cost from $42,750 to $27,500, a 35% drop.

More changes in innovation are expected, Stumo said.

Despite challenges, students and teachers have been creative in their response to the pandemic, Dean Susan Larson said.

“We do think that this just provides additional possibilities for our students to really enrich and enhance their learning,” she said.

Some schools across the nation have offered similar programs, but almost all of the ones Stumo heard of only offered an extra term, he said. He noted the schools doing so are private, and no one else in the region is matching Concordia’s offer.

“This is really a time where the college has been significantly innovative,” Stumo said. “We’re making some innovation and changes throughout this fall in support of our students.”

Concordia is known for giving students the chance to learn in the community, he said. That’s still happening, but in a different way, he added.

Larson noted Concordia’s strong music program, which typically presents several well-attended concerts throughout the year.

“They’re used to performing in front of audiences, and that’s not going to happen this year,” she said. “This would be an opportunity for students who might want to stay and do some of that.”

Some classes may be limited due to space constraints from social distancing, she said.

For some students, finishing in four years may be more ideal than taking on another two semesters, Larson said. They may have jobs lined up or have applied for graduate schools.

Other students, like Steinhofer, may have a change of heart in what jobs they want to seek. At first, Steinhofer said he wanted to go into the sports nutrition industry. Recently, he has thought about being an educator or going into community work, he said.

“Being that this is my senior year, it is not a lot of time to just pick up and switch,” he said, adding the flex program could help him make that switch.

Steinhofer said he plans to seek neuroscience and psychology minors if he is approved to come back next fall for free.

“They’ve been really trying to offer students as much opportunity as they can in this difficult time,” he said of Concordia.

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