ESU Bulletin writer Lucas Lord talks with Emporia State president Allison Garrett via Zoom Monday, Jan. 25. Despite financial and Covid-19 related concerns, Garrett says ESU is, "well prepared" for the campus to reopen.

045: Can you tell me what we know about the state of some of the 12 major programs at Emporia State discussed by the Kansas Board of Regents?

Garrett: The board of regents has what they consider to be some Demetrius criteria, so programs have to have a certain number of students and be graduating a certain number of students in order to carry on. Something that is sometimes difficult for those outside higher education to understand is that not all programs have discreet costs associated with them.

So you may have a program that has zero additional dollars in cost and a good one to use as an example would be biochemistry which is comprised entirely of courses, we will continue to offer for our biology majors and our biochemistry majors. So it would not matter if you had one student in it or forty you are not changing the economics of it.

2:10 Do the concerns with these programs come in with how many professors and how many salaries are associated with the program? Since the college is involved in constructing some additional facilities on campus.

Garrett: Yes, but those come from different sources of funding. So I think it would be important to keep in mind you cannot conflate those two since the funding that covers payroll is not the funding that goes into facilities, those are kept very discreet.

Let me give you one other example which might be helpful. The way in which we handle our education majors here at Emporia state may be classified as a secondary education major but may be taking a bunch of history and political science classes, so the question arises do you really save anything if you get rid of a major because you have got to provide those courses for those people whoa are going to go all over the state in highschools to teach.

3:45 As the spring semester goes do you think we will hear more about these programs?

Garrett: (Provost David) Cordle shared in the town hall the other day that we are one of the last institutions to present that the regents put on the list. So they heard from both K-state and Wichita State about some of the programs on the list for those institutions. Typically when an institution reviews a program it will say, ‘we’ve looked at the numbers and it absolutely makes sense to keep or we’ve looked at the numbers and its one we have to keep an eye on or, we’ve looked at the numbers and it’s one we can’t continue on with.’

Obviously, we are hopeful in respect to our programs, but this is a regent’s process so we are working as constructively as we can to respond to their concerns but also to share information in a meaningful way about our programs. As noted earlier when a program appears on that list it is without any context.

5:50 With classes starting today so many students are returning to campus for the first time since December, so I also wanted to talk about some of the precautions the university is taking.

Garrett: Let me first spend a moment on the topic of vaccines. Things may shift in the next week or two but one area that has been frustrating for those of us in higher education is that K through twelve was put on Phase Two but higher education was not. So we have been advocating with doctor Le Noman who is the secretary of health, with the governor to change that. So we are hopeful that their approach will change. We do also know that we have some faculty and staff members, some students as well, that may fall into that phase because of their age or health condition. So we have been trying to get the word out as we learn about what vaccine clinics may be available.

Regarding the start of the semester and how this semester will go, it will be very similar to how things went in the Fall. Faculty and staff all have access to free covid-19 testing as the semester begins. I think for students today and tommorow might be our last couple of days for the start of the semester tests. But as we did last semester, we will have some additional opportunities for testing so there are opportunities for testing in several arenas.

Number one, if someone feels ill our health clinic is available to provide a test for that individual. They should call first to the health clinic on campus and make an appointment but that is open to our students, our faculty, and our staff. So that is continuing on from the fall semester.

Number two, because we are competing right now in basketball and track our student athletes are doing testing. Which is true across the country for student athletes who are competing right now. So they are getting tested in advance of competitions along with couches, trainers and referees in order to ensure the safety of those competitions. While we do have some public attendance in our basketball games it is very, very small. William Allen White auditorium is a very large facility, and we are well under a tenth of our capacity in terms of attendance because everyone is spread out massively kind of in a checkerboard pattern.

The last kind of testing is what we call surveillance testing. Back in the fall semester we had several occasions throughout the semester where we had Covid tests for several hundred students at a time to run tests and really what that allowed us to do is get a sense of how widespread or not widespread Covid was in the student population.

Earlier on we were limiting that to those identified in the random samples but later in the semester we moved to a more general, if you want a test come on in and get it. I know our biology department worked with our health clinic with what the protocol should look like. I think that was a good opportunity for our biology students to be involved in something real world.

10:00 Does the university have enough testing equipment for covid-19 available for everyone or is it restricted to just times when the university can offer it.

Garrett: So the free tests are available today and tommorow and we have sent out some communications about that. My recommendation is that if someone feels ill, they need to call our health clinic and get a test. The county also has some testing available and that is an option for people as well, but I do not know if that’s continuing on beyond the end of the month and I don’t know the details about that.

11:00 You met with KSNT earlier on to talk about the nursing program expanding. Despite Covid-19 we continue to see high retention rates for students of color, graduate students, and nursing students, how does the school plan to expand on programs like these?

Garrett: We have two different expansions that are happening in the nursing program. Our nursing program has consistently had among the very highest inclex passage rates, that is the licensure exam in the state of Kansas. The average in Kansas is I think in the low eighties and we tend to be mid to high nineties in terms of passage rate, so we have an incredible nursing program.

The two areas of expansion are both expansions that allow our nursing department to serve more Kansans. One is the Master of Science in Nursing which is what you heard me talk about on KSNT very briefly last week. And that is something we have been working on for many years now, but it takes a long time to make it all the way through the different approvals and accreditations.

The Master of Science in nursing has two tracks: one for nursing management for someone who is already practicing as a nurse but who maybe wants to move up to nursing management could pursue it and the other is nursing education and the third is just a combination of those two tracks.

The nursing education track will be particularly helpful for associate degree nursing programs because they are looking for master qualified teachers to teach in those programs and there has been a real dearth of qualified instructors for those programs so that will be really helpful in growing the number of nurses who are pursuing associate degrees because our students who get masters could be out teaching in those programs.

The other area of expansion for the Emporia State nursing program is in what is referred to as the RN to BSN, and so that has to do with students who already have an associate degree of nursing, are already practicing nursing in their community and hence they really are not mobile and are looking to complete a bachelor’s degree.

The most expensive parts of a nursing program are the clinicals in part because accrediting bodies require very low ratio of students to faculty. So I do not remember if it’s one faculty for every ten or eleven students, but it requires a lot of faculty attention. Someone who already has an associate degree of nursing has already been through that. To get a bachelors it is online study and it really is picking up the rest of the bachelorette gen ed’s that would normally be expected for a bachelor’s degree as well as some upper-level nursing courses.

14:50 In your town hall you talked about this being a good year for student retention. Despite that you said that our next fiscal year we face challenges. Is that because we are starting to see the fallout from Covid?

Garrett: Well that is just one piece of the puzzle and the good thing about Covid is that it will go away. The other pieces of the puzzle are the bigger concern.

15:30 There’s obviously normal business concerns on top of those related to Covid.

15:40 When the pandemic is over do you think the university will be able to handle other issues like lower enrollment more efficiently?

Garrett: We certainly hope that is the case. Let me quickly walk you through those areas to give you a bit more background. One of the things we have seen in Kansas over a number of years has been consistent cutting of universities budgets for funding by the state. If you were to look back to two thousand and eight (2008) or so we are probably approaching twenty percent cuts to our higher education funding by the state. At the same time costs of operating universities go up just like they do for regular businesses. So if you were to apply a consumer price index calculation, and I did this the other day, if you look from two thousand and eight (2008) to two thousand and twenty-one (2021) I think it was twenty point eight (21.8).

I should say this. The legislators when you talk about consumer price index that they get. In higher education we sometimes talk about HEPI which is the higher education price index, and the cost drivers for higher education are people and technology and those are two areas that have risen more quickly than general costs. So I do think it is really higher I think than the twenty-one point eight (21.8) but just those two massive swings create real financial pressure not only on us but all the other universities. I don’t know if you saw the statement from KU’s chancellor, but they are working on cutting seventy-five million ($75 million) right now. I think all of us are dealing with some of those same struggles because of state budget cuts and the fact that our costs of operation increase every year. For us, we were down by forty-nine noses in our enrollment in the Fall which was the least in the system by noses or percentage but that’s still down. So certainly we are taking a financial hit because of that as well.

I should mention that you asked about construction earlier, student tuition does not go towards that its from other sources.

19:00 Every time I drive past the school things are built a little bit more, will any of those projects be done by the semesters end?

Garrett: Yes absolutely. So the prophet aquatic research center is very close to being done and maybe in the next two or three weeks will be complete. The KOST over tennis complex it will be summer before that is complete. We have space going into Morse south, again donor funded as you are gathering from these names, for veterans, our student veterans’ group, and that is coming along nicely as well. That is an internal space so you cannot really see that.

19:45 Are there plans to connect the separated buildings of Morse hall?

Garrett: there are no plans right now. Because there were four buildings there, there were: Northeast, Abigail Morse, Central and Morse south all four connected. If you were down by the lake and had to get to class, you had to walk all the way around and so I really think it helps campus flow a lot to keep those buildings separate. At some point we will figure out in respect to Morse central what the future of that building looks like. Right now there is this giant scab on the end where the connection was removed so we are certainly looking hard at what the next steps will be for that facility.

20:55 I know with Covid there was always this concern that all these projects would just stop dead in their tracks.

Garrett: Well they did slow down, a couple of them did as construction teams dealt with instances of Covid amongst their teams so there was a defiantly a bit of a slower pace to some of those projects. You may have noticed for example that in the Fall Abigal Morse would be completely open for students to move in as the Fall semester started but in fact it was a couple weeks later before the students who were going to be living in that beautiful, historic facility were able to move in and that was because of some of those challenges.

21:45 With classes starting is the school prepared to handle any potential outbreaks like we saw last semester?

Garrett: I do think we are well prepared. Last semester we identified spaces where students who had Covid or had been exposed could quarantine or isolate and we used a tiny number of those rooms. I really applaud our students because I think by and large at least until Halloween our students were so super careful. We did see a little bit of a bump towards the end of the semester, so it is a reminder how incredibly important all of our faculty, staff and students continue to be diligent about mask wearing, and the handwashing and keeping the social distance and all of that. By and large though our numbers were very, very small through the Fall semester. I am looking obviously at a lot of peer institutions and their numbers too, and I was really, very, very impressed by the responsible way everyone on our campus handled the outbreak in the Fall. I think that kept our numbers very low, so I encourage everyone through the Spring semester since we are not through this yet to continue to use those same good practices.

24:00 Will we be finishing out the semester in person or will we finish online like students did in the Fall semester?

Garrett: I would certainly hope. I have given up trying to look into a crystal ball because initially when Covid started I thought, ‘We can go home, and we can successfully sit on our couches for two weeks and this will go away,’ and here it is almost a year later and we are still dealing with it. I would certainly hope that the entire semester can be done in a face to face manner and would certainly hope that for the Spring that we are able to conduct commencement exercises that may have to end up being outside, we will certainly take a look at what numbers look like, I would certainly hope that we can have the kind of Spring, at least towards the end of the semester, that seems a lot more normal to people because I know it has been stressful on everyone. ON our students to have to do some of their projects, or coursework, or meetings or RSO meetings in a manner that is not a first choice and for faculty and staff I think that is true as well.

One thing I believe will be true that is as the semester goes on more and more of ESU’s faculty, staff and students will be vaccinated. To the point about students I really do not have any clarity as to what timing will be for students who are otherwise healthy, but the students are an important group as well and so my hope is that vaccine production will continue to ramp up and it won’t be too long before all of us are able to get those vaccines. I am looking forward to it myself as someone who isn’t in any particular group at this point so I am at the end of the line, but I would hope that before too long those vaccines will be widespread, and I will be able to get one of those vaccines.

26:40 Is there anything else you wanted to talk about or share with me while I have you?

Garrett: I don’t think so. But again I would like to thank you because I know you went down to the city commission and spoke out in the summer and I know it was helpful for them to hear from others besides me, so I do appreciate that.

27:00 Well it was good talking with you.

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