Brad Byrd: Welcome to InDEPTH. The insidious nature of COVID-19 and the mystery it has caused in our lives for our college students is is especially taxing. The question, will there be fall semester in the classroom? Joining me tonight is University of Southern Indiana President Dr. Ron Rochon. Dr. Rochon, we are in the month of May. Here we are, as you know, there’s nothing quite like the ambiance of walking from class to class on a college campus on a beautiful fall day. So with that said, How is USI monitoring the coronavirus data? And is there a specific deadline that you have where you have to make a decision on whether or not the campus is going to fully reopen?
Dr. Ron Rochon: Mr. Byrd, thanks, it’s good to see you and I want to thank your viewing audience as well. We don’t have a firm date on when we will make that that final decision. I’ve established a presidential task force that is campus-wide; we have over 100 members of our campus working together to identify ways in which we can examine data, national, state and local data to better inform us how to reacclimate back to campus. At the top of mind for this university is safety- safety for our students, our staff, our faculty and administrators, making sure that we as a community are safe. And so we’re working hard to mitigate risk as best as we possibly can.
BB: In all due respect to online courses, they’re very important, but is a hybrid of in class and online reopening possible?
RR: It is, you know, I will tell you that my colleagues are looking at multiple models. We’re trying to find out ways in which we can be as responsive to the students as possible. We’re learning a lot. As you can imagine, some students are faring extremely well with online instruction, but some are not quite honestly. National data is telling us that, and so finding ways in which we could potentially have a hybrid opportunity, we can enhance distancing within classrooms, across campuses that we have traffic is something we’re looking at very, very closely. We want to make sure that the experience is rich for students, that the quality is there, and also that they matriculating very successfully as they intended to, you know, prior to COVID-19.
BB: Dr. Rochon, a lot of universities are facing what you’re facing right now. Are you concerned that some students may just sit out a semester? Could enrollment take a hit come fall at USI?
RR: You know, it could, you know, national data is indicating that there may be a drop in enrollment, without question, but it’s also indicating that there’s a strong possibility that students may in fact, stay closer to home. And if that’s the fact, I want to encourage students, especially those who may not have considered USI, for example, to please consider us, you know, look at our website. Look at our virtual tour. We have individuals that can talk to you about our programs that we’re offering, programs of purpose and possibility for you. We are always concerned about enrollment but I’ll tell you, you know, with that as well, is we’re concerned about retention, you know, not just new students coming in, but our existing students who, who are away from us already, you know, finding ways to remain connected with them and and providing them with the kinds of resources that they need is something that is extremely important as well.
BB: It’s a hard reality, the money and all this. Federal stimulus funds- is it easing the burden somewhat?
RR: Well, I’ll tell you, you know, let me say this to you, Mr. Byrd, I need to underscore the importance of our collective appreciation for all the elected officials across the country who have provided, I think a very strong statement for support of higher education across the land. This entity transforms lives. It enhances independence and autonomy for individuals, it produces great citizens. So without question, the CARES act has provided great assistance to us. The thing that I’ll tell you also though, is that we’re learning about additional costs that were really unpredictable. As we entered COVID-19, that we did not understand were even possible, and they really involve the burdens on students particularly. And so I would always, you know, inform everyone who’s listening, if we can receive additional funds to support students and support the institution to deliver our mission and our goals to serve the state of Indiana and beyond, oh, without question, I want to advocate for that. I want people to understand that those needs are real. They’re significant, and they’re ongoing. But with that, people need to understand that we also appreciate what’s happening currently at the state.
BB: Briefly, Dr. Rochon, speaking from the heart, what would you tell that student entering his or her senior year? They put in all this work and everything, and those graduates who missed out on a tradition this year- what do you what do you tell those students?
RR: Wow, I really appreciate that question. You know, first of all, I just tell them that that we’re excited about them. Seniors, listen, every college student gets this message but the seniors in particular, you understand discipline, hard work, resiliency, but most important you understand perseverance. You understand obstacles. I want to encourage you to get back to campus. Get back to us. We’re waiting for you. We’re ready for you. Understand that you need to continue to maintain that very strong ethic that you have over the last four years. Come back and get this thing done. Leave your legacy, provide your families with something to celebrate and also for you to celebrate. And also please utilize us as a resource, call upon us anytime possible. We’re ready to see you. Go Screaming Eagles.
BB: All right. Well, Dr. Rochon, always good to talk to you. Thank you so much. And please stay safe.