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Gilmer: WVU-P will open classrooms for fall semester

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia University at Parkersburg is planning to restart face-to-face classes this fall, the university president told the Board of Governors on Wednesday.

The board met via Zoom and discussed the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on the university. It also passed a budget for the 2020-21 year.

President Chris Gilmer announced his intention to begin in-person classes for the fall 2020 semester.

A lot of the guidance from state education officials have left the decision on how and when that happens in local hands, Gilmer said.

“Reopening of campus facilities is a local decision,” he said. “(The chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System) advised discretion and caution as we move forward.

“In the near future, after further consultation with this Board, the University’s executive team, and our COVID-19 task force, I will announce a tentative schedule for the phased reopening of our facilities.”

Gilmer reminded the board even after that phased reopening, which will follow all state and federal guidance, the university will reserve the right to change course if the pandemic changes course.

“I have charged Provost Chad Crumbaker to work with the faculty and students to ensure that all faculty members and students are prepared to transition back to virtual instruction if that is required, and furthermore, we are also exploring the option of making all or most classes into hybrid classes for fall, part-time face-to-face and part-time virtual,” Gilmer said.

Currently, the university is not adjusting the fall calendar, but has reserved the right for students to complete online the short portion of the semester which falls after Thanksgiving break, in case the pandemic makes a comeback, he said.

The university has remained open for business, and summer school is being conducted through online instruction.

“Full-time equivalent Summer 2020 enrollment currently stands at 112 percent compared to summer 2019, and new student enrollment for Summer 2020 stands at 305 percent compared to summer 2020,” Gilmer said. “In fairness, while the percentage growth of new students is exponential, it represents a small pool of actual students, nonetheless still a great accomplishment for our recruiting and retention teams considering the adverse recruiting and retention circumstances.”

It is too soon to know whether summer will be a predictor of fall enrollment, Gilmer said.

“I certainly hope it will be,” he said. “We are using all available measures to recruit new students and to retain existing ones.

“Total new student applications are up significantly for fall 2020. Total applications for May surpassed total applications for any of the four previous months of May.

“Still, for this success to be fully realized, we must admit and register these students and retain a large number of continuing students who have not yet registered for fall.”

WVU Parkersburg’s students traditionally wait until mid-to-late summer to register for fall, he added.

“We are hopeful that the remainder of June, all of July, and early August will help us close the gap between where we are now and where we ended the fall 2019 semester,” Gilmer said. “Progress toward fall enrollment is down at many institutions because of the pandemic, but you may trust we will do all within our power to ensure a robust class for fall 2020 at WVU Parkersburg.”

In an attempt to remove all possible barriers toward enrollment, officials have made the decision not to increase tuition for the fall 2020, spring 2021 terms.

“We made the strategic decision not to impose any hardships on our students beyond those which the pandemic has already caused,” Gilmer said.

The board passed the proposed $21.1 million budget for 2020-21. The university will end the current budget year with a small surplus and Gilmer said it will be proposing a balanced budget to the board for the next fiscal year.

The surplus is around $234,000, Executive Vice President Alice Harris said.

This was done through measures to control costs through emergency purchasing guidelines, starting in March, she said.

When shutdowns started, it impacted the amount of money the college would be getting.

“(The surplus) happened because we didn’t buy anything we didn’t need or weren’t obligated to purchase,” Harris said. “We are looking at a decent year financially, despite everything that has been going on.”

Revenues from traditional sources within the college, child care services and Ricky’s Cafe will be down because of the pandemic.

Due to the C.A.R.E.S. Act stimulus funding received, the university was able to provide $876,544 in grants ranging from $650 to $1,300 to 1,046 students. However, Harris said that will not impact the university’s bottom line.

“Given everything we are going through, all of the uncertainty, I think we have done as good as we can do to control the finances and keep us in good shape going forward,” Harris said.

Harris said she had worked on the budget as the pandemic continually changed circumstances for the college.

The budget reflected additional resources for the admissions office, marketing efforts, plans to retain students and more.

“There are probably more unknowns that I have ever faced in putting together a budget,” Harris said. “The status of the pandemic and the impact it will have on our enrollment and the impact it will have on the West Virginia state budget where they might feel the need to adjust our appropriations.”

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com.

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