As a student at Sam Houston State University and a LEAP Ambassador, I am always interested in the goings-on in higher education, and I had the chance to learn up-close-and-personal with Representative Chris Turner’s FB Live program.
His guests were two Chancellors: Brian McCall (TSUS) and James Milliken (UTS). It’s always a pleasure to hear from Dr. McCall, who has been a big supporter of LEAP’s Austin Internship Program.
Turner, who is the Chair of the Higher Ed Committee in the Texas House (and who housed one of LEAP’s interns in the Spring of 2019), kicked off the meeting by allowing Chancellor McCall to introduce SHSU’s new president. McCall gave effusive praise for the leadership of President Hoyt, and he then welcomed President Alisa White, whom he described as a “remarkable individual.” She will begin on August 10, and we are grateful to be students at a time when we have had a chance to experience the leadership of President Hoyt…
…and the chance to welcome President White to our friendly University.
The Chancellors had a chance to highlight some of their most impressive programs. Chancellor McCall, for example, announced that TSUS had recently implemented a program at three of their Universities (SHSU, Lamar, and Texas State) that will provide tuition-free education for students whose families make less than $65,000 per year. Amazingly, that is more than 90 percent of the system’s freshmen students.
At the UT System, Chancellor Milliken has a similar program, noting that this is an important part of an adage that guides him: “Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not.” Both systems, by offering affordable education to less-fortunate students, help equal the opportunity playing field.
The big topic, of course, was the impact that COVID has had on the TSUS and UT systems. Both Systems discussed pride in their faculty for shifting to online so quickly in the spring (editor’s note: “Thank you, thank you very much.) and noted that their summer enrollment is actually up, a reflection, one hopes, of students’ satisfaction with their education.
Both Chancellors expressed pride in their students’ resilience, as well. McCall noted that some students did homework in University parking lots to get onto wi-fi systems, having exhausted their own data plans.
While touting the technological advances available today, both Chancellors expressed a desire–assuming it’s safe, of course–to get back to in-person learning. Many class types (such as labs), research activities, and student socialization are not conducive for on-line learning, and both, while lauding the value of online enhancements to the learning process, seem intent on keeping in-person learning the predominant delivery system, safety permitting, for the time being, especially for undergraduates.
Of course, to return to an in-person teaching environment, alterations to the learning environment will be necessary. While it will differ by the institution, some discussions of steps that could be taken to mitigate risk include:
- Reduced class sizes, held in larger class rooms
- Signage directing students as a means of avoiding crowds and bottlenecks
- Movement of large classes online
- Alternating from class period to class period online and in-person (so only half the class is in the room at any one time)
- Mask wearing
- Limiting out-of-class interaction
Of course, even these tools are contingent on the COVID infection rates not getting significantly worse.
Both also made a strong case for tuition revenue bonds to create and expand facilities for their systems. Chancellor McCall, in particular, highlighted the space deficit that the TSUS institutions faced. And both Chancellors pointed out that higher-education funding was one of the near sure-fire ways of increasing productivity–and revenue–down the road. As Chancellor Milliken said, “almost everything that is positive goes up with higher-education attainment levels.”
And on that optimistic note, Representative Turner closed the program, thanking the Chancellors for their leadership and wishing everyone a happy and safe 4th of July. (And reminded folks to “wear a mask and stay home as much as possible!”)