Pres. Cockett Speaks About Vaccine Plans For USU, Student Enrollment

Dec 8, 2020

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I'm Kerry Bringhurst. You're listening to Utah Public Radio. Time now for our weekly update with Utah State University President Noelle Cockett. And in addition to testing for COVID-19 on the USU campuses statewide, I understand the university is preparing for the possibility of providing vaccines against COVID-19.

Noelle Cockett: We've started a working group to look at how we might be able to do vaccinations on our campus. In conversations with the Bear River Health Department, they anticipate to have a mobile vaccination unit, whereas ours would be maybe something that's held on campus similar to a flu clinic. And that would then be available to students, faculty and staff.

In anticipation of that we've already started a survey of freezer space, because many of these vaccines, the two that are most likely to come to Utah, will require deep freeze. And then a way to make sure that we can monitor that everyone gets both shots so that the vaccine is fully effective.

KB: Yeah, I guess universities may be equipped with some of these types of freezer units, given some of the research that is done that includes biomedics.

NC: That's absolutely right. Absolutely right.

KB: What are we thinking as far as housing? Are we seeing students signing up to come to campus in the next semester, and utilizing the housing space?

NC: On our enrollment numbers, it's actually a once again,a very unique year. People are not registering at the same rate that they would have in a more typical year. We're down about 3.8% as of today.

KB: How could that impact Utah State University? Are we talking at all about any layoffs or, you know, it having an impact on what jobs are available here on campus?

NC: I don't anticipate that the one semester drop in enrollment would lead to anything like layoffs. So instead, what it causes us to do is delay things that we had talked about, or maybe dial back some of the new initiatives that we have been working on.

KB: Is it too early for conversations about space on campus?

NC: What this has taught us is that the in-person colleges really do matter to students. And if we did try to dial that back, we would see a consistent drop in enrollment. What it has taught us, though, is that maybe the typical eight to five work day, and the eight to five class periods are not necessarily, you know, sacred.

KB: What is it the greatest challenge for you and your administration, as you, you know, try to predict these upcoming changes and maneuver through, you know, the coming of a vaccine and what that could mean for opening campus?

NC: Well, we always have to set up our classes for the next semester quite early in the previous semesters, but I'll be darned if our catalog people didn't ask me today, what we thought we were going to be doing in Fall 2021. And that was tougher to stay, not only because we have this summer semester in between, but there is the possibility of the vaccine.

KB: And of course, Utah lawmakers will be meeting in January, February, March to discuss higher education funding, some adjustments were made, because of COVID. Are we expecting another cut in funding or at least a limit in any increased amounts of funding from the state? Do you have a sense of that yet?

NC: From what I'm hearing, the state was very conservative in the drop of tax revenues last fiscal year, so tax revenues were not down as much as what they once feared. We had a 2.5% ongoing cut, which we weathered. We're hopeful that that will be the extent of it, but we don't anticipate that the state will restore that cut.

KB: We are out of time this week. Thank you for joining us for our conversation with Utah State University President Noel Cockett.