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WVU-P Board of Governors discusses enrollment, pandemic

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia University at Parkersburg is continuing to manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic with solid enrollment numbers and strong finances, officials said Wednesday.

The university’s Board of Governors held its regular meeting for October, via Zoom, where officials talked about student enrollment and the university’s financial standing.

President Chris Gilmer talked about the impact the pandemic has had on other schools.

“Some estimate that up to 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide will close due to COVID-19,” he said. “Some are laying off employees or reporting record enrollment declines, yet WVU-P is moving solidly and ambitiously ahead, demonstrating to its internal and external constituents that we will emerge on the other side stronger and even more resolved to student service and student success.”

Other schools are also reporting outbreaks of COVID-19 on their campuses. While Gilmer said they are not immune to the possibility, he credits WVU-P’s prevention protocols for having no outbreaks at either the Parkersburg or the Jackson County campuses.

“I thank everyone who is working unselfishly and prudently in the hope we will be able to continue this record, while I also assure you that we have protocols in place should such an outbreak arise,” Gilmer said.

This week the university is beginning state-mandated COVID-19 random surveillance testing of a 10 percent randomized sample of employees and students who are employed or learning face-to-face this semester on WVU-P’s campuses.

Those working or learning entirely remotely are excluded from the sample.

“Our pool includes 570 people, so our target sample each week is 57,” Gilmer said. “This activity will be completed weekly until further notice by state authorities.”

The saliva-based tests will be self-administered by those selected. Specimens will be sent to an approved lab for testing with any positive results reported to state and local authorities.

Gilmer said every reasonable effort to maintain appropriate confidentiality will be done.

“WVU-P’s administration will use this information to promote the health and safety of our community,” he said.

As enrollment remains at the core of the university’s mission, Gilmer reported the final new traditional college student enrollment for fall 2020 increased to 116 percent of fall 2019, and that overall enrollment for fall 2020 stands at 99 percent Headcount and 98 percent FTE (full-time equivalent) of fall 2019, “a statistically insignificant change of 28 students.”

The only real significant change has been in the Early College high school students, which is down.

“In the middle of the pandemic, despite the Herculean efforts of our Early College team and partnering school leaders, schools and parents simply have found it challenging to prioritize the importance of Early College amid competing priorities,” Gilmer said. “We expect to build back the small change in this student pool post COVID-19, and the good news is that the new and retained Early College students have statistically increased the number of courses taken per student.

“Full-time Equivalent enrollment, therefore, is minimally affected, and fiscal resources are minimally impacted since Early College courses are offered at a deep discount.”

Early indications seem to have new college applicants for spring 2021 already up 11 percent at this point, Gilmer said.

Gilmer reported the staff of the business office achieved four consecutive unqualified annual audits with no reportable conditions or concerns about internal controls, including the university’s most recently completed audit.

“(It is) a major accomplishment indicating our foundational commitment to fiscal accountability and stability,” Gilmer said.

Executive Vice President Alice Harris commended the business office for its work.

“I am halfway through my 39th year as an accounting professional and the group who works at (WVU-P) in Parkersburg and Jackson County are by far the best group I have had the opportunity to work with,” she said.

Harris said collecting tuition and fees has been more challenging this year because of the pandemic.

“We have been a little more lenient in order to recognize that our students are facing challenges that they haven’t faced in the past,” she said. “I will say that we are doing a really good job on collecting on the payment plans.

“We continue to work with the students who owe us money and we will keep working to get them in safe status. It is just a little slower than it has been in the past.”

The university is about 25 percent through the current fiscal year. Harris said the university is doing good with handling expenses and revenue collections.

“We are doing pretty well, despite all of the challenges we have in addressing things we have never had to address before,” she said. “Through the first quarter we are doing really well and we don’t have any reason to think that won’t continue.”

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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