UL evolving to move forward amid COVID-19

Posted at 8:27 PM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 22:33:50-04

Businesses and schools across the nation and Acadiana are continuing to evolve and figure out how to move forward during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tonight, we're taking a closer look at UL.

More than 19,000 students are enrolled at the University. According to data published by LEDA in 2018, UL is the fourth largest employer in Lafayette Parish with more than 2700 employees and an estimated revenue of more than 710 million dollars.

As part of our continuing efforts to help you rebound, we're learning how UL is adjusting to not only serve its students and employees, but the community.

In a one-on-one interview with KATC's Chris Welty, UL President Dr. Joseph Savoie says the University is committed to remaining spirited and seeking solutions through this pandemic.

"We've been pressed like everyone else," Dr. Savoie said. "We've lost a lot of revenue just because of students moving off of campus. We've reimbursed students for housing and meal plans. So, we've lost that revenue. All kinds of financial challenges. The federal government has made some monies available to help us through this transition, not nearly enough, but we will figure it out and make it work."

Savoie expects the State to implement cuts because state revenue has essentially dried up. Savoie is committing to UL's employees and student workers to continue paying them through the pandemic.

"I'm worried mostly about our people. Not only our employees and our students and faculty and staff, but the community. People need to keep the right demeanor, understand that this is an experience that we're going to be stronger because of it," Savoie said.

Part of that experience is transitioning to distance learning. 20% of UL's students were already taking online classes, but with the shift in education came added expenses.

"We had to equip people, train people, buy computers, buy hot-spots for those who didn't have WiFi accessibility. There were all kinds of expenditures that were unplanned for and not budgeted," Savoie said.

Through this crisis, UL is proud they're continuing research for a reason.

"Our researchers immediately jumped in to try to solve real life problems, from sanitizers, to PPE, pharmaceutical research that's going on in New Iberia. We're working with four possible pharmacutical approaches to this case Our student nurses helped out at the Cajundome, our college of education faculty developed curriculum for at home learning our economist helped the Governor with data to track the spread of the virus," Savoie said.

He remains hopeful the community as a whole stays strong and knows it will take time for everyone to recover from the financial and mental impacts of COVID-19.

"We're going to learn a lot, we're going to be better as a result of that education and we're going to keep things moving forward. It's not the end. It's just an episode and we're going to keep making progress," Savoie said.

How is UL looking to help current and prospective students?

In an unprecedented turn around, UL transitioned to distance learning in one week. About 96% of students are still enrolled, but going all digital was complex.

"Faculty who never dreamed of teaching online learned real quickly how to do it and they're getting better and better. It's been an amazing thing to watch the transition," Savoie said.

The summer semester will be completely online, but Dr. Savoie is hopeful circumstances will allow for some hybrid, on-site and distance learning.

"Some lab experience for students is important, some clinical experience for students where there needs to be face to face...we're figuring all of that out," Savoie said. "Students should know they will have access to all of the courses they need, they will stay on track and we will make sure everything is done in the appropriate way."

Savoie realizes campus life is a big part of UL. He says the University is maintaining contact with students.

"We work really hard for people to learn from one another, enjoy one another's company and get to know one another better. Now, we're having to do that from a distance and it's very difficult. While we're not physically together, we're hoping to stay emotionally together and socially together," Savoie said.

Though COVID-19 has derailed a lot of plans and disrupted the end of the school year, Savoie wants students to know they will not be displaced or disenfranchised.

"We're looking at various scholarship opportunities to help students, but it is a real challenge because everyone's world has been sort of turned upside down. We're going to be up and running, we're going to do all the things people would expect us to do. We're going to try our best to provide the best learning and living environment we can for our students."

Savoie knows some students will have tough decisions to make because of finances.

"You should not park your future. You should continue to work on your future," Savoie said. "That's for traditional students, but those workers and adults that have been displaced as well. If they need to up-skill or re-skill their talents and their abilities, we can help them do that."

As for the fall semester, Dr. Savoie is hopeful students will be back on campus, but says they will adjust if they need to.

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