Local college and university leadership discuss current state of higher education

Published: Jun. 19, 2020 at 5:32 PM CDT
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As we continue through the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities are working together on managing their student's return to campus this fall.

Friday morning UW-Stout chancellor Kathrine Frank, along with UW-Eau Claire chancellor Jim Schmidt and Chippewa Valley Technical College president Bruce Barker spoke at the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce's “Eggs and Issues” event about the state of higher education in the Chippewa Valley. A major topic is how their institutions will safely bring students back to campus this fall. At UW-EC, face masks will be mandatory according to Schmidt.

“For students, if they are not willing to take these steps we will ask them to try and build an online schedule so they can complete as many of their classes as possible online or take classes somewhere else,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt also says the university had purchased a COVID-19 testing machine that can give results in as little as 45 minutes, as well as using an app to track students and staff's symptoms to prevent a potential outbreak on campus. The app, originally developed by the Todd and Karen Wanek Center for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome at the Mayo Clinic, tracks COVID-19 symptoms of users. UW-Stout conducted a density study to see how many students they can have in a classroom while social distancing and CVTC says some programs offer student choice classes, meaning if student doesn't feel comfortable coming to class, they can stay home. All three institutions are offering on-campus, online and hybrid classes for the Fall semester. All the leaders say their budgets have been hit hard by the pandemic.

“Compared to the prerecession 2006 appropriation levels, Wisconsin is still down more than 40%,” Schmidt says. “We're having to do everything we did in 2006, but we've got 40% less money.”

During the meeting, Schmidt shared the damage COVID-19 did to UW-EC's yearly budget.

“The costs have been real,” he says. “$10 million related directly to COVID-19 and the State's 5% cut out of our current year budget, which ends in 2 weeks."

Of that 10 million, 6.3 million came by way of residence hall and dining plan refunds. Barker says about 45% of the CVTC budget comes from state funding, since they do not currently have dorms for students.

All three institutions say they are committed to working together to keep students, faculty and staff safe once classes resume this fall.