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Provost's Update July 23

Dear faculty:

Thank you for working with department heads to design modes of delivery for each course to be offered this fall in an effort to provide as much direct engagement and active learning as possible. The outcome of this process is as follows:

  • For undergraduate education, 61% of courses will be fully online (approximately three quarters of these synchronously), 32% delivered in a hybrid format, and 7% completely in-person.
  • For graduate courses, the percentages of courses to be delivered fully online, using a hybrid format, or completely in-person are 60%, 30% and 10%, respectively.

Recognizing the challenges encountered in supporting an on-campus educational experience while mitigating health safety risks and not exceeding our resource capacity, I believe that we will make good progress this fall in transitioning from the fully online delivery of courses that was required in the spring and summer to the resumption of in-person instruction later this academic year.

Now that you have completed the process of designing modes of delivery for your courses, I understand that many of you are still concerned that our fall plans could be upended by a resurgence of the pandemic in our region. The increasing rate of infection across states to the south and west of us is certainly discouraging, as are infection rates in parts of Virginia. At this time, COVID-19 is being managed reasonably well in the New River Valley (NRV), so we are still moving forward with our plan for an on-campus fall, with transition to online learning and exams after the Thanksgiving holiday. However, we will continue to monitor the situation and consider activating our contingency plan should the need arise. Students are now able to access information on the mode of delivery for each course and make decisions regarding their fall enrollment. It is important that we remain flexible in regard to making further adjustments to mode of delivery plans, but please remember that significant changes at this time will undercut students’ ability to plan their programs of study.

Based on current enrollment data, it is clear that students are looking forward to being on-campus. As of July 23rd, overall freshman enrollment stands at 6,908, which is 233 more than our enrollment goal. Further melt will occur as we progress towards matriculation and we anticipate that new student enrollment headcount will be very close to our target. The Enrollment Management team, aided by the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee, which represents a diversity of faculty and administrative experts, are to be congratulated for the success achieved so far. In addition to the accuracy achieved thus far in attaining the headcount targets for both freshman and transfer students, the incoming class has an impressive representation of underserved and underrepresented students. To date, efforts to recruit out-of-state U.S. students have also been successful. One area of disappointment, however, is the very low enrollment of international students – a regrettable consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the low enrollment of international students will result in a total enrollment of out-of-state students that is lower than our goal and this will have a negative impact on university tuition and fee revenue.

One of the most pressing challenges facing faculty, staff, and graduate assistants is the expectation that many dependent children will be learning from home as public schools deliver online instruction. The prospect of juggling parental, caregiving, and work responsibilities will stress families and frustrate faculty in their efforts to accomplish the university’s mission and maintain progress in developing their careers. To address this concern, a multi-pronged strategy is being developed to:

  1. work with non-university partners to improve the availability and affordability of childcare in the NRV;
  2. identify and revise existing policies and procedures that limit the flexibility needed for parents and caregivers to manage competing demands on their time and attention;
  3. minimize departmental service functions that may detract from a person’s ability to accomplish core teaching, research, and outreach functions; and
  4. ensure that our promotion and tenure policies do not unfairly penalize faculty who are adversely impacted because they are unable to commit the time necessary to accomplish job performance goals.

As we work through these details, I am optimistic that we will be able to ease the burden placed on faculty, but I also realize that we probably will not be able to address this concern fully. The availability and affordability of dependent care resources is a problem that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic and we are largely dependent on non-university partners to provide sufficient capacity to meet our needs.

Thank you again for your remarkable efforts to prepare for the fall semester and your demonstrated commitment to our students.