ATLANTA — The State's largest university, Georgia State, is now facing unique challenges as it weighs how to address the coronavirus looking ahead to the fall and beyond.
With a student body of more than 53,000 students, the university ranks among the largest in the nation.
When the pandemic hit, the staff and faculty had just two weeks to figure out how to operate mostly remotely until September. Dr. Mark Becker, GSU’s President, pulled out all the stops.
“We made sure we had the technology for students who did not have technology, and that included Wi-Fi, hot spots, tablet devices and laptop computers,” Becker said.
Becker added that the students and faculty quickly adapted.
“Grades for this semester actually went up," he said. "The students actually did a little bit better than the previous two Springs."
Come September, Becker said the goal at Georgia State is to have students back on campus, with a combination of remote learning and classroom sessions.
"We will see, in the future, much more use of this sort of technology," he predicted. "At the same time, we get back to being with people."
And getting back with people translates to a new normal.
“(COVID-19) is a deadly disease - much worse than the bad flu. And that combination makes it something we do not want to get, and short of a vaccine, the only way to keep it from spreading is to basically limit the amount of social interactions. So, social distancing needs to be kept in place.”
And that is what Georgia State plans to do, Becker added.
Another big "if" facing Georgia State, is its athletic programs. As the university awaits NCAA guidance, it is preparing for a football season - perhaps abbreviated and without any fans - in the stadium.
Student athletes will be able to start returning to campus as early as June - on a very limited basis - to start doing their workouts, Becker said. But, instead of having all of the students and all of their coaches in one place at one time, people will be appropriately socially distanced, he assured..
Becker admitted that uncertainly continues to surround the upcoming sports season, but he emphasized the need for athletes to spend the summer months preparing and conditioning with the hope that a fall season will unfold favorably.
But, another challenge facing Georgia State: finances. With a $300 million budget, the university could face budget cuts of up to $42 million. Becker said he is getting the school prepared.
"We are developing a budget plan that will include furloughs and reduction of capacity in terms of numbers of positions,” he said.
Those numbers and their impact on the university are yet to be determined.
And although Georgia State continues in the remote learning mode, its scientists are busy around the clock, working with the state of Georgia in processing coronavirus test samples, now up to 500 a day and climbing.
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