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Campus leaders share forecasts for fall

May 19, 2020

With so much still uncertain, UM-Dearborn is opting for a flexible, nimble plan for the Fall 2020 semester.

So what’s going to happen in the fall? Short of having some way to predict the future, there simply is no definitive answer yet to the question everyone is curious about. The next best thing is being prepared for a number of possible futures, and people across the university have been hard at work planning for a range of probable scenarios. At a recent campuswide virtual town hall, Chancellor Domenico Grasso, Provost Susan Alcock and other campus leaders shared some of the details that are driving those plans, and we've broken down the major themes, in case you missed it.

Sometimes small is good

While there’s little doubt there will be challenging times ahead, it’s possible that UM-Dearborn may find itself in a less precarious position than other Michigan universities. The reason? UM-Dearborn’s funding mix is less complex. Many bigger universities depend on more diverse revenue pools that include large athletics programs, endowments, large research operations, and residence halls in addition to tuition and state appropriations. UM-Dearborn receives almost all of its funding from just the latter two categories. Currently state funding accounts for about 16 percent of our revenue, with tuition making up about 82 percent. Many experts are forecasting cuts to state funding in response to large, pandemic-related declines in state tax revenue. And while early indications are fairly good for fall enrollment (more on that below), a lot could still change before the Fall 2020 semester kicks off in late August. Currently, university leaders are planning for a variety of scenarios. For example, a baseline budget falling between conservative and optimistic forecasts predicts a budget shortfall of $4.6 million to $20 million, on a general fund budget of approximately $159 million.  

Fall enrollment numbers haven’t dropped off a cliff

Much of our fall enrollment picture won’t come into clear focus until closer to the start of the fall semester. But some early numbers seem positive. For starters, summer enrollment was up slightly. And Vice Provost of Enrollment Management Melissa Stone reported that enrollment for traditional first-year students is lining up with targets. In other areas, transfers are down, registration among returning students is slightly down, and graduate enrollment is down. Stone says graduate enrollment is especially volatile because of the high percentage of international students who may face challenges with travel restrictions or availability of student visas. Stone also noted that thus far the university has helped channel $686,000 in CARES Act funding to more than 600 students to cover emergency expenses related to the pandemic.

Plan for remote learning, then pivot to in-person classes if possible

The university is actively reviewing various scenarios for fall classes and plans to make a decision by the end of June. For now, UM-Dearborn has chosen not to take the step that many universities have in announcing that in-person classes will resume in the fall. Instead, understanding that the feasibility of face-to-face learning will be determined by factors beyond the university’s control, campus leaders are reviewing options for things like full remote delivery and hybrid approaches that rely on varying mixes of remote and in-person learning. Provost Susan Alcock says the university is also exploring different options for remote delivery. For the end of the spring term and the summer term, faculty were encouraged to use “asynchronous” approaches, which don’t involve students meeting altogether in real-time in online environments like Zoom. In the fall, as we get a better handle on the reliability of online meeting technologies, that may change, and “synchronous” remote classroom time could play a bigger role. Alcock says the thinking guiding this flexible approach is to prioritize student safety and allow faculty to quickly pivot to different approaches (more online or more in-person) as conditions change.

This is a chance to fundamentally rethink how we do education

As you know, UM-Dearborn was in the middle of a strategic planning effort when the pandemic hit, so we were already busy dreaming up a better version of our university. Chancellor Grasso says faculty, staff, administration and students' united, successful response to the pandemic should encourage all of us that we are up to the task of challenging the assumptions of what a university education needs to look like. “I’d like to ask you to think about how we can do what I’m calling a ‘great pivot,’” Grasso said. “That’s not just adapting to the fall and this particular situation, but actually rethinking how we can seize this as an opportunity to think about the positioning of the university for the future, how we can improve student success, and how we can blend remote and in-person learning to create a truly engaging education. UM-Dearborn was founded as an innovative experiment to prepare students for practice. It’s time for us to reinvent what that means in a different century.”

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If you missed the virtual town hall, you can view it and review questions raised before and during the session here

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