President Mary Finger Discusses Pandemic Impact in Pittsburgh Business Times Article
President Mary Finger discussed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Seton Hill in a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Business Times.
The publication's special report, "Education Disrupted," focuses on how the pandemic has impacted educational institutions from early childhood to higher education and what the future may hold. Read more on the Pittsburgh Business Times website and find President Finger's interview below.
Mary Finger has initiated a number of new academic programs, expanded student opportunities for experiential learning and opened several new campus facilities since she became Seton Hill University’s 10th president in 2014. Seton Hill quickly transitioned to remote learning for its students in spring 2020. They returned to campus in the fall with a Return to Campus Health and Safety Plan and, after a two week delay due to the post-holiday surge of cases, are back again this spring with universal Covid testing for all students, faculty and staff.
How has Covid disrupted education?
In spring 2020, Seton Hill moved very quickly to remote learning for students when it became clear that we would be unable to stay open in our traditional face-to-face manner. … The university provides all students, faculty and staff with MacBooks, eliminating the digital divide that many students across the country faced. … Seton Hill – in consultation with medical professionals - developed a Fall 2020 Return to Campus Health and Safety Plan that included a number of initiatives that prioritized health and safety while operating in a face-to-face manner.
What’s one positive that has come out of all of this that you hope will stick post-pandemic?
Seton Hill has always been a wonderful community of amazing students, faculty and staff who truly care for one another, but I think the pandemic has really deepened the bonds of our campus community. People here regularly check in on each other, offer help and stay connected. I hope that the deep care and concern that the Seton Hill community exhibited towards one another’s physical, mental and spiritual health throughout this pandemic will continue beyond this challenging time. … From a practical standpoint, Seton Hill also recognized some areas where we could improve service to our students. We introduced some new dining options – including a grab-and-go meal ordering mobile application and a food truck – that will likely be a part of our food service offerings beyond the pandemic. Seton Hill also added two additional full-time nurses to the health services team during this academic year – a registered nurse and a second nurse practitioner – that will enable the university to offer much more robust health care to our students immediately and well into the future.
What areas have you had to cut back on?
Covid-19 has had a significant impact on college and university budgets across the country that began with room and board credits from the spring 2020 shutdown to the significant costs associated with health and safety measures and additional financial aid support for students whose families are seeing increased economic hardship as a result of the pandemic. Seton Hill has taken a number of steps to account for these losses and costs. The university has reduced non-Covid-related departmental expenses, frozen wages for faculty and staff, reduced wages for senior administrators and instituted a small reduction of force while actively fundraising to help mitigate the pandemic’s economic impact.
How has enrollment been affected by Covid, and what trends are you noticing as you look ahead to the class that’s enrolling this fall?
Seton Hill’s enrollment has held steady during the pandemic and is in line with recent years. Like most other colleges and universities, we are seeing some disruptions in the application and acceptance process for fall 2021. Current high school seniors have had more difficulty completing their applications for many reasons, including canceled standardized test dates and the remote or hybrid learning environments at their high schools interrupting their ability to obtain transcripts or letters of recommendation. Seton Hill has offered test optional admissions for a number of years now. For fall 2021, more than 500 applications have come in as test optional compared to 10 to 15 in most years – a prime example of how much the pandemic has interrupted the lives of current high school seniors and the admissions process. It is going to take more time than normal for applications to be completed. We continue to reach out to students with virtual and in-person visit opportunities and remain confident we will have an incoming class in line with the past several years.
Are you hopeful for a return to a new normal this fall?
Certainly the Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved bring all of us hope. As the distribution process for the vaccine continues, we know we must remain vigilant until we reach a greater level of overall immunity in the population. We recognize that the fall 2021 semester may still require some continued mitigation efforts, but we are optimistic that CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidance will allow us to begin to loosen our health and safety protocols.