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Outbreak leaves SFCC graduation, budget in doubt

SANTA FE, N.M. — Commencement for those graduating from Santa Fe Community College could look dramatically different this year.

The college announced it would remain closed following its week-long Spring Break starting March 23, with the campus set to remain closed until April 6 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, administrators are bracing for the possibility that closures could extend far beyond that deadline.

“I would say there’s a high likelihood that this is going to continue beyond that April 6 date,” SFCC President Rebecca Rowley said on Friday.

Rebecca Rowley

The possibility of extended closures has put into doubt the future of the college’s spring commencement ceremony, which is currently scheduled for May 16.

Rowley said the college has not yet decided what commencement will look like, but expressed doubts they could hold a traditional ceremony that includes all graduates and a large audience.

“I don’t see any way we can have commencement at this point,” she said. “We can’t have people located in that space like that.”

SFCC administrators will now discuss what alternatives to the traditional graduation ceremony are possible. Rowley said one idea is a virtual commencement, where graduates are featured in a “really elaborate slideshow” that includes their name, picture and information about their degree.

She said official details about the graduation will not be announced until late next week.

COVID-19 also carries the potential of dramatically changing SFCC’s budget for the 2020-2021 academic year, after plunging oil prices have spurred talks of a special legislative session.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had approved 2% percent new money for SFCC, including a 4% percent compensation increase for staff.

Kathy Ulibarri, executive director of New Mexico Independent Community Colleges, said colleges across New Mexico are expecting less money from the state if a special session takes place.

“There may not be sufficient revenues at the state level to fund the colleges,” she said.

Rowley said she expects a special session would hold negative consequences for the college’s budget and proposed monetary increases for certain departments.

“Now, all that’s going to be looked at in a completely different light,” she said. “We will not be approving a lot of recurring budget increases that a month ago I probably would’ve told you we would approve.”

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