During a virtual town hall meeting on Friday morning, USU President Noelle Cockett and members of her staff discussed what the coming months might look like and answered questions about tuition, protocol and incoming freshmen.
“It has been a very crazy month. In fact it feels like it has been a year,” Cockett said. “But for me, I think the COVID pandemic really started on March 14. That was the day we decided to move our classes to a remote format, and it is incredible to think that was just a month ago.”
Describing the transition to normalcy as a dial rather than a switch to be flipped, Cockett said there are still many stages before things will run freely again, and it will take a working vaccine to get to that point.
“It is anticipated that a vaccine will be available in 12-18 months,” Cockett said. “So we are going to be in a new norm circumstance for possibly even a year, and that new norm is what we are planning on. It means that people will come back on campus but not in large, free-moving ways that we used to have.”
Cockett said the new normal will include events but not in the numbers and freedom known previously, and classes will be conducted in smaller groups.
As the administration continues to prepare for many different scenarios, Cockett said screening also might become a more common process on campus.
Classes during summer semester will remain online with a few adjustments to university-related travel or events as seen fit. On-campus housing will be available and scholarship deadlines have been moved to June 1 in consideration of those who have recently returned home early from church service or traveling abroad who are wanting to return to school.
Also during summer semester, all online class fees will be waived and students who are not residents will not have to pay out-of-state tuition, according to Cockett.
USU students, faculty and staff were invited to submit questions prior to the town hall meeting, and one of the most frequently asked questions was about a refund on tuition due to the format of classes changing.
“One of the things that I think is a bit of a misunderstanding is that by moving our classes to online, remote delivery, is that we were going to save money,” Cockett said. “That is actually not how that worked. It actually cost us more money to do that in the middle of a semester.”
Between the large number of hours people put into making the transition happen along with the need to purchase more software licenses and video conferencing contracts, Cockett said there aren’t any savings that can be returned.
However, Dave Cowley, the vice president for Business and Finance at USU, said monetary aid is going to be available to students through the federal stimulus package, additional state funding and FEMA dollars as well.
“The financial impacts are continuing every day; that is part of the reason that if I could give you a dollar amount today, it would change tomorrow,” Cowley said about the student aid. “We have not reduced the labor expenses even though we don’t have the revenues coming in because we wanted to get through this while keeping people employed, keeping income coming in.”
Keeping people healthy and employed is one of Cockett’s main goals throughout this process, and she said unless the legislature changes the percentage of salary increase for the upcoming fiscal year, the recent tuition and fee increase will not be postponed in order to make sure there is enough money for salaries.
In regard to incoming freshman, Robert Wagner, the vice president for Academic Instructional Services at USU, said if high school seniors were unable to take the ACT or SAT due to COVID-19 restrictions, their requests for admission would be examined on a case-by-case basis.
“We want you here at Utah State University, and so we are going to look closely at each of those applications,” Wagner said.
At the conclusion of the virtual meeting, Cockett expressed that she has often felt sad, nervous and proud over the past month.
“I am nervous about what our future holds for us,” Cockett said. “I am scared for my family, I am scared for my neighbors and I am scared for my community. But then I also know that I am incredibly proud of our university community. I am proud of our students, I am proud of our staff, I am proud of our faculty. We are going to make it.”
The student aid will be distributed similarly to financial aid, which means that students are free to apply through the school. More details will be posted on the university’s website as the money becomes available.
Other resources for students can be found at www.usu.edu/covid-19/students/support.