Virginia Tech president Tim Sands held the second virtual President’s Town Hall Thursday, April 23, discussing topics related to the university’s COVID-19 operations, specifically concerns for new and returning undergraduate students in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other members of the 45-minute session joining Sands included Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs, Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity and Frank Shushok, vice president for student affairs.
The student-focused town hall started with an acknowledgement of virtual commencement and how the university has been working to make the experience as close to real graduation possible.
“I’d say the defining word for what we're experiencing, especially with our students, is disruption,” Sands said. “That's disappointing for everyone … but we're doing everything we can to make sure that there is a sense of community through the virtual modes that we have through the remainder of this academic year.”
Before the session turned to questions, Sands stated on Virginia Tech research for COVID-19 testing, that researchers in Blacksburg and Roanoke are preparing to scale to 1,000 tests per day with a 24-hour better turn around.
The remainder of Q&A-style webinar included questions from viewers throughout the session.
Sands predicted that the university will come together in-person in the coming fall semester, at least partially. However, the university will focus on individual needs rather than looking at the population broadly.
While the decision will be announced in June, Sands said the university will keep open communication on this decision until then.
Sands said the university does not have answers to questions about what fall semester tuition will look like. Moreover, tuition may depend on whether the student is returning or not since the coming semester will be dependent on individuals’ situations, such as where they live and what the COVID-19 situation is like in their area.
One option for next semester is likely to be a hybrid scenario, where courses are offered online and on-campus. Tuition will depend on the structure of the fall semester, and these updates will likely come in June.
Holloway and Pratt-Clarke answered a question on resources for students who are not comfortable or used to the new online learning experience. Some resources that moved online include advising.edu for academic support, online Hokie Wellness, Newman Library services and the Writing Center.
Beyond academic support, Holloway noted that over 200 students have been economically affected by the pandemic, and that the emergency fund and financial aid have helped.
In addition, Pratt-Clarke said the university is keeping in mind the various backgrounds students come from and are asking for students who need assistance to refer to the advising resources for help.
Holloway also explained the new grading system under the COVID-19 operations. A credit/non-credit option does not affect the GPA regardless of whether students fail a class. Thus, while A-F can raise or lower a GPA, the CC/CD option does not affect the GPA. The pass/fail option does not allow credit for the classes taken.
How this new system affects scholarships that are related to GPAs is dependent on the scholarships; Holloway said it depends on the department or institution handing out the scholarship. She encouraged contacting the departments or advisors who know more about the particular scholarships to learn more about the scholarship’s guidelines.
Some students asked why picking this option was only available before final exams.
Holloway stated that the university wanted to ensure that students still do their best throughout the semester despite the circumstances.
“I believe the general feeling is that we want to be sure that we encourage our students to persist and to do their very best in courses, but that sometimes if we wait until after the term, we're not going to be looking forward to the best decision for the students,” Holloway said. “So, again, I'd ask you just to reach out to your academic advisor and talk through those options and what might be best for you as you go into that final exam period and finish out those projects.”
During a brief discussion about off-campus housing, several students asked questions about whether or not they should sign off-campus leases for the fall semester.
Shushok’s advice was to be patient and wait a little longer before making a decision. Moreover, the decisions may be based on a variety of family situations.
“I’d weigh all of that together,” Shushok said. “Get the advice of other people that you trust, and try to make decisions in a time that works well for you.”
A component of the federal CARES Act is that the U.S. Department of Education directly sends money to public institutions for people in need. Virginia Tech was allocated $9.7 million that will be directed toward students with financial need.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Education issued policies to universities, including Virginia Tech, for distribution. Sands said the university will be able to answer more questions about this act in the next few days.
The session ended with a brief discussion on what the speakers have learned during this pandemic and how they have been planning for the future.
“I think we're going to be dancing along the pathway we established for the generational vision of Beyond Boundaries,” Sands said. “And we're using the strategic plan that came out of that to identify those opportunities and to make sure that we preserve them if finances become very tight. It's all hand in hand, we're trying to learn as much as we can as we go through and navigate this pandemic.”
The full virtual town hall can be accessed here.