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Watch Now: Oklahoma higher education 'turning on a dime' to handle COVID-19 crisis

Watch Now: Oklahoma higher education 'turning on a dime' to handle COVID-19 crisis

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Glen Johnson (copy)

State Chancellor for Higher Education Glen Johnson said campuses will have to keep adapting as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. Tulsa World file

'Let's Talk' with State Chancellor for Higher Education Glen Johnson and Tulsa Community College President Leigh Goodson

During a hectic 10-day period in mid-March, Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities transitioned more than 170,000 students from in-class to online courses.

It was a monumental and unprecedented feat for the faculty and administrations, said Glen Johnson, the chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. But the changes aren’t over yet.

Campuses will have to keep adapting as the COVID-19 crisis evolves, with a lot of decisions still to be made before students return for the fall semester, Johnson said Tuesday during the Tulsa World’s weekly town hall webcast.

“Our response to the crisis has been very aggressive,” said Johnson, who has postponed his retirement for nine months to help cope with pandemic’s impact on higher education. “And we basically had to turn on a dime to do it.”

Oklahoma higher education received about $106 million in federal stimulus funding, but half of it went toward emergency financial aid for students, with the other half divided among the various schools, Johnson said. And those dollars didn’t cover the total costs of closing campuses and putting all classes online, he said.

The University of Oklahoma, for example, received $8 million but estimated that housing rebates and other shutdown expenses would add up to $12 million. On top of those loses, universities are expecting a 4% funding cut under a budget agreement that legislators announced this week, Johnson said.

“It could have been much worse,” he said, adding that “There are concerns that enrollment will be down but won’t know that until we get further down the road. That would create another financial difficulty.”

Falls sports remain uncertain, with decisions being driven largely by the NCAA and athletic conferences, not the regents, Johnson said. One possibility: Seasons won’t start on time in August, forcing games to extend into the spring semester.

“Frankly, they’re discussing the option with fans to have social distancing in a stadium environment and what that would look like,” he said.

“The bottom line,” however, “is that no decisions have been made yet.”

Classroom environments are still being worked out too, with most colleges expecting to offer some mix of on-campus and online courses.

Tulsa Community College will announce plans next week for the fall semester, said President Leigh Goodson. About 70% of summer course have gone online, compared to 20% in a normal summer, she said.

Allowing them to do school work in their cars, the college has created hot spots in campus parking lots for students who can’t afford WiFi at home, she said.

“That’s a creative solution, but it’s something we’re concerned about going forward,” Goodson said. “There’s a huge equity gap for people who don’t have WiFi or don’t have the technology at home to take classes online.”

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Michael Overall



Twitter: @MichaelOverall2


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