November 5, 2020
Virtual town hall follow-up
Dear faculty and staff,
On Oct. 29, we hosted more than 600 faculty and staff in our virtual town hall that was held in lieu of the annual fall K-State 2025 college and unit visits. If you missed the live event, a recording of the session is available. Town halls are always an important moment for the university community to come together and discuss topics of importance to all of us, but even more this year due to the pandemic.
While the session allowed us to update our university community on COVID-19, budget and enrollment challenges, we did not have time to answer all of the questions submitted during the session. This letter includes responses to questions with contributions from members of the town hall panel and others, including Medical Director of Lafene Health Center Kyle Goerl, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Karen Goos, Chief Financial Officer Ethan Erickson, Vice President for Research Peter Dorhout, and K-State Global Campus Dean Karen Pedersen.
University COVID-19 response
Q: Will we test students when they arrive for the spring semester?
A: Currently we do not have plans to implement a mandatory test for all returning students. As we have reviewed the data from those institutions that implemented mass entry testing, there appears to have been a lack of desired effect. Mass entry testing appears better suited for a small, well-controlled population. As the size of the population and freedom of movement increases, the effectiveness diminishes. Below are examples of institutions that implemented such an approach as provided on the American College Health Association listserv.
- University of Notre Dame tested 11,836 individuals with 33 positive tests for a 0.28% positive test rate. Despite this, ND had to suspend on-campus teaching and other operations for two weeks due to a significant outbreak.
- Virginia Tech required pre-matriculation testing on 9,041 students with 21 testing positive for a 0.23% positivity rate. Despite this, there have been 1,189 positive tests on students since Aug. 3. While VT did not suspend operations, the pre-matriculation testing did not prevent a significant outbreak.
- University of Virginia reported that out of 13,000 pre-matriculation tests, 36 were positive for a 0.28% test positivity rate. Despite this, UVA has recorded 963 positive tests since Aug. 17.
- Virginia Commonwealth University performed 4,448 pre-matriculation tests (on-campus residential students) with 15 returning positive for an overall positivity rate of 0.3%. Since then they have had 286 positive tests.
- University of Alabama reported 310 positive cases out of 29,938 pre-entry tests for a 1% test positivity rate. Despite the pre-matriculation testing, they have reported 2,578 cases of COVID-19 as of Oct. 12.
- University of Arizona tested 32,729 students with 161 testing positive for a 0.5% test positivity rate. They have had 2,418 students test positive.
- University of Kentucky had 254 students test positive out of about 30,500, which gives a 0.8% positivity rate. Despite this, they have had 2,248 cases since early to mid-August.
- University of Michigan had a pre-matriculation test positivity rate of 0.36% and despite appearing to do well for a number of weeks, is now under a stay-at-home order with classes online for at least two weeks.
Given the above information, our plan is to continue rapid diagnostic testing for symptomatic students, increase asymptomatic testing participation with a focus on students in congregate living environments and targeting any on-campus clusters, and continue to educate campus community members on the importance of engaging in risk-reduction behaviors. Should more data be discovered regarding the efficacy of mandatory re-entry testing, we will certainly re-evaluate the approach.
Q: Will there be asymptomatic testing among faculty and staff?
A: We are considering offering asymptomatic testing for faculty and staff. Our first priority is to optimize our asymptomatic testing for students. We are monitoring the success of the campus screening efforts, student participation rates and capacity.
Q: I've heard rumors that some students in living groups are deciding not to get tested because they don't want their entire fraternity or sorority to be shut down. Can we address this?
A: Lafene Health Center staff and Thomas Lane are currently in discussion with the Fraternity and Sorority Life community’s full-time staff person to discuss ideas to incentivize and increase their participation in voluntary asymptomatic testing, such as competitions among chapters or providing group testing at a chapter house, among other ideas. There will also be efforts to develop ways to message more effectively to that particular community prior to and at the start of the semester regarding risk-mitigating behaviors.
Q: Hybrid teaching is fostering poor class attendance even on the days when students can attend, leading to poor academic performance that will impact retention. Will dismissals be implemented after fall?
A: There are no plans to automatically reinstate students who would be dismissed under our current academic policy. This practice was temporarily implemented last spring because of the abrupt shift to remote teaching and learning. At this point, we expect students and faculty to be doing their best to promote student success. We used Progress Reports to identify students who needed early intervention this semester. We will continue to support our students to complete the semester successfully and persist.
The Teaching and Learning Center has a number of helpful resources addressing student engagement.
Q: Is there or has there been any consideration to reducing to a 16-week semester? Students, faculty, staff are exhausted. I understand this pivot couldn't happen for the fall. What alternatives are being explored for the future?
A: We understand that students, faculty and staff are exhausted. The typical stress and exhaustion of a semester are compounded with the impacts of the pandemic. As we planned for the spring semester, we wanted to balance the desire to reduce opportunity for travel and to protect our students, faculty, staff and our host communities with a need for a break. Our proposed revised academic calendar with two scheduled well-being days is in the process of being approved. Looking ahead, faculty have the option to consider how their courses may fit into an eight-week course model. Exploration of this opportunity is ongoing.
Q: As difficult decisions are made to not fund GA positions through the Educational Opportunity Fund, we will lose direct service to students and recruitment of graduate students for those roles. How can we offset those losses?
A: The Educational Opportunity Fund, or EOF, committee received over $395,000 in FY22 requests with a budget planning amount of $300,000. Given this challenging budget scenario, one of the principles the EOF committee used in decision-making was to not fund new or previously unfunded requests. The committee was able to fund twenty requests that covered a range of units serving students. The students on the committee had very difficult decisions to make as all requests submitted were proposed with a desire to better serve our students. Departments impacted are encouraged to consider how they might re-allocate existing resources or explore alternative funding sources that may be appropriate for requests such as the Student Centered Tuition Enhancement, or SCTE, funding process through SGA.
Q: Are there any plans for furloughs during this winter break that the students will be gone?
A: Some college/unit furlough plans may have furlough periods scheduled over winter break.
Q: Are furloughs/salary reductions forecast for the next fiscal year?
A: We don’t know what budgetary levers will be needed in order for colleges and units to balance their budgets in FY22. We do expect to continue to be financially challenged for the next several years.
Q: Are discussions taking place (or will they soon) to do a +/-/delta analysis of FY21 budget decisions to address the FY22 budget, associated decisions and expressed concerns by faculty and staff?
A: The Budget Core Executive Team continues to monitor the financial health of the university. Discussions are ongoing about how to transition from the FY21 to the FY22 budget with the information we have available. University community members can send their questions and concerns to email@example.com.
Q: We have managed to maintain an incline in growth of research funding. How are our graduate student numbers and applications looking during this enrollment crisis?
A: Graduate enrollment has been slowly growing over the last few years. We saw a 9% increase in graduate applications and 7% increase in admits for fall 2020 over fall 2019. While we only saw a 3% increase in new graduate enrollment, this was primarily due to the -48% decline in international graduate students as domestic graduate enrollment saw almost a 14% increase.
Q: Can you share any preliminary ideas that are being considered to counteract the large decline in enrollment in some of our largest colleges?
A: It is important to note the decline will need a multi-pronged approach to correct. The first is our recruitment efforts in these areas. We are working to address our brand and messaging to areas and student populations where we have seen decline over several years. We will work with them to develop more personalized messaging, increase our targeted digital advertising and adapt our recruitment strategies to address student loss. We highly encourage department and faculty participation in visit and yield strategies, as we know the opportunity to engage at the program level is highly effective in our student recruitment. Second, we are looking at ways we can address affordability in our competitive environment. We are planning to increase need-based aid and are adapting our communications related to packaged aid and value of these programs. Lastly, we need to review the marketability of the programs as they are designed and explore program development for new populations.
Q: Enrollment is declining in the College of Arts and Sciences. Is that mostly majors? What is the percentage decline in student credit hours? A&S teaches core courses to most undergrads; our substantial university "service center" work must be recognized.
A: The enrollment decline in Arts and Sciences is both in majors and student credit hours, or SCH. Over the last five years, Arts and Sciences has seen a 6.5% decline in SCH for graduate and 23.7% decline in SCH for undergraduate.
The Office of Institutional Research has a robust portfolio of data tools available, including enrollment data.
Q: Declines in enrollment are inevitable. Are there focused efforts to increase our Research (and Extension) efforts to grow the financial base for the university and grow our graduate student enrollment?
A: Growing graduate education around our research strengths is a priority for K-State. Graduate student tuition is shared back with the colleges at 100%, so students who are supported by grants, for example, will have that tuition paid from the grant directly back to the college of their program. Moreover, growing sponsored research also puts more money into supporting researchers as well as funds into the college or department for supporting their research infrastructure through Facilities and Administrative Cost, or F&A, return. The Office of the Vice President for Research has focused its efforts the last few years on reducing the barriers to applying for grants through new online grants management systems and has provided workshops for faculty about grant writing. Resources like our seed grant programs also help to stimulate sponsored research by enabling faculty to acquire preliminary results that help their proposals be more competitive. This is where we have focused a large portion of central F&A and the GFS grant.
Nevertheless, graduate student recruiting begins at home — the departments/programs need to increase their outreach to faculty colleagues at schools that feed our graduate programs and ensure a robust pipeline of student prospects. This means giving Zoom seminars now, instead of traveling to give talks, and many departments are using Zoom seminars to connect across their disciplines. Faculty have a tremendous influence over where their undergraduates apply for graduate school, so building relationships is important for a successful recruit.
Q: It seems that diversifying our program delivery model, built around micro-credentials and certificates that build into degree programs, could also absorb some of the emerging gaps.
The university is very interested in building stackable micro-credentials and certificates that align with existing degree programs or build on emerging market-focused competencies. At the present time, we are working to develop a university-wide infrastructure that is scalable and sustainable to support increasing interest in these types of efforts.
A number of departments/colleges have been working with Global Campus in developing and delivering non-credit learning opportunities and they have seen an increase in participation in these courses over the last year. We believe there are opportunities for growth in both the non-credit and credit micro-credentialing areas.
Q: Is there any consideration in thinking about alternative degree programs, retraining, recertification, etc. How are we thinking creatively to meet market demands?
A: Yes. The university is very interested in thinking about an array of learning opportunities focused on our core areas of expertise realizing the needs of today’s students, alumni, employers and employees. Many institutions develop their educational offerings around the concept of a 60-year curriculum basically looking at a lifetime approach to education. Knowing that today’s worker will change careers a number of times in their lifetime, we have the opportunity to better support these work/life transitions with just-in-time learning opportunities.
We thank everyone who took the time to participate in last week’s town hall. While the challenges ahead are great, we are encouraged by the resilience and creativity of our university community to meet these challenges. It will take all of us to continue to respond to the pandemic, to improve enrollment and to weather the storm with our budget. It will not be easy, yet we have an incredible community of students, faculty and staff who have demonstrated they can and will work together for the future of K-State.
The next virtual town hall for faculty and staff is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 11. We hope you will join us.
Richard B. Myers, President
Chuck Taber, Provost and Executive Vice President