Arkansas State University System President Dr. Chuck Welch is preparing for any and all scenarios that may affect the multiple campuses in his university domain. He says his team is building contingencies for everything from a full return to student life on campus to an extension of how this spring semester ended with online courses.
“We have multiple contingency plans in place, multiple scenarios, fully understanding that it will be a lot of work that may never, ever materialize or be utilized. That’s okay. I’d rather have those contingency plans in place rather than have an ‘a-ha’ moment or an ‘uh-oh’ moment and have to make a quick adjustment,” Welch said.
ASU’s system is not presently budgeting 100% of what’s available in case there is another reduction in state funding or a drop in student enrollment, which is hard to predict at this juncture.
“We don’t know what the coming months are going to look like,” Welch said.
He also said one of the biggest takeaways from the COVID-19-impacted spring is that students and faculty want the social aspects of collegiate life. In other words, online instruction works, but it’s not a substitute for the university experience.
“I can tell you that one of the interesting aspects of all of this has been, there’s always those who question, ‘Do we even need brick-and-mortar campuses anymore?’ or ‘Should we go to fully online?’ I can tell you what we’re hearing from our students is they want to be back. They really miss that one-on-one attention, that social aspect of higher education. And I can tell you some of our faculty want to be back. So, I think that it’s reinforced for all of us that the face-to-face on-campus component of what we do is critically important,” Welch said.
As head of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Welch works with counterparts across the country. He said the financial toll the coronavirus pandemic has had on many schools, compounded with financial struggles that predated the disease, will likely lead to the closure of smaller schools.
“I think that’s inevitable. There have already been some announcements nationally about institutions that are planning to either close their doors or merge with another institution or things of that nature,” Welch said, adding that ASU remains in a financially safe position. “I’m not sure, short of just a massive influx of dollars from either state or federal coffers, that’s going to be able to be avoided.”
You can watch Welch’s full interview in the video below.