CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public higher education was the focus of an online discussion today between state senator Eric Lesser and UMASS chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.
The interview was part of Lesser’s weekly lunchtime LIVE stream series on topics of interest to western Massachusetts residents.
The chancellor addressed multiple issues including lower enrollment in both both community colleges and universities. One idea was to consider consolidating resources and streamlining systems between campuses.
He also remarked on how the health crisis continues to impact students and employees financially, and how important having a research university in the region is to the economy.
Subbaswamy said he’s optimistic that the school will fully open in the fall and noted that many students enjoy the flexibility of taking classes in person and on-line. The pandemic forced schools to quickly switch to remote learning. The situation has created new adaptations for learning that he believes will continue to be used into the future. He hopes the concept of hybrid learning with on-line and in person will create more opportunities for people to get an education because of its accessibility and affordability.
“It’s also interesting to see how many students really choose to remain in the remote mode, to save money and for other circumstances, and say, you know, this isn’t so bad. I can get a job and continue to work,” said Subbaswamy.
He also spoke about the recent COVID-19 outbreak on campus. “The current status is [that] we’re back to completely safe levels where we’re not worried about further outbreak,” he said of the university, which is currently operating at 30-35% capacity, or about 5,000 students. “We can maintain this, or in fact go even lower in terms of positivity rates if everyone 100% follows the protocols. I have to give total credit to our students, because by and large, they really followed what were essentially draconian measures [by sequestering themselves for two weeks upon arrival].”