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Sept. 29 Weekly Update With President Noelle Cockett

You're listening to Utah Public Radio. I'm Kerry Bringhurst with a weekly update conversation with USU President Noelle Cockett. 

Welcome Noelle. Today I thought we could talk more about enrollment at Utah State University, and the impact of COVID-19 on that enrollment. If I remember correctly, we have about the same number of students this fall, as we had last fall.

President Noelle Cockett: Our international students are down. This would be due to the restrictions of you know, people from outside the United States coming into the United States. So those numbers are down. 


Graduate students, I think are a bit down. I think, because people again, may be postponing, you know, not quite ready to go to grad school, if I can't have that face-to-face interaction with my colleagues. 


What is up, though, and therefore made us at the same numbers as last year, is our freshmen students. And they were eager to get on a campus, even though maybe it's not quite the experience that they would have had last year.


KB: So does it concern you that this might become the trend? And is this a bad thing, if this continues to be the case, where more online learning happens?


NC: I doubt it's going to be the trend. And I would like to, if I could take a little time to explain that. So I just get, you know, a lot of emails and a lot of correspondence, both from the students and their parents—‘Can you please go back to full-time, in classroom instruction? Why are you doing online? You know, I don't feel like I'm as engaged. I miss the interaction with other students, etc, etc.’


We looked at something that I think has been done in the public schools, could we have students sit in assigned seats in all their classrooms? We realized that was probably not practical on a university campus. 


What we did was set up our classes to be socially distant. And the reason that we do that is the CDC has a guideline that is if you've been in contact with a person who is positive, if you've been in contact with that person, more than 15 minutes, at less than six feet, then you need to quarantine. 


So our thinking was if we impose social distancing in that classroom, then even if a person turned out to be positive, the rest of the class does not have to quarantine because we have masked, because we are having that greater than six feet social distance. 

If we had not imposed that, yes, we could have full classrooms, but without assigned seating, if a person turned out to be positive in that classroom, all the students in the class, including the instructor, would then need to quarantine for 14 days. So when people say ‘Will you please go full-time? Will you please let more students into the class?’ We can’t do that. Because if we do that, as time goes on, we're going to have more and more and more people in quarantine, as there's an increase in positive cases. 

And a particular concern is that our faculty, our instructors, would also have to go into quarantine. And you know, the instructors have families. They could have other issues that make them more of a high risk person. So it's that balance.


KB: As I look at the numbers, the number of faculty that have been impacted by COVID is really low. I guess that's another indication that these living arrangements and maybe some of these off-campus activities could be contributing to the increased number among students.

NC: That's right. It also says our practices that we've implemented here on campus, social distancing in the classrooms, mandatory masks, etc, are working. What is happening off campus or what is happening in residence halls, you know, we have less control over and certainly off campus living, we have even less ability to influence that

KB: Utah State University President Noelle Cockett, thank you so much for joining us and we look forward to speaking with you next week.


At 14-years-old, Kerry began working as a reporter for KVEL “The Hot One” in Vernal, Utah. Her radio news interests led her to Logan where she became news director for KBLQ while attending Utah State University. She graduated USU with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and spent the next few years working for Utah Public Radio. Leaving UPR in 1993 she spent the next 14 years as the full time mother of four boys before returning in 2007. Kerry and her husband Boyd reside in Nibley.