NMU President Fritz Erickson held a virtual forum Wednesday to update the campus community on topics including the university's COVID-19 statistics and response, enrollment and retention, the state budget process and plans for the fall semester. He also responded to questions. The most common inquiry related to the chance of NMU's Health Center obtaining COVID-19 vaccine doses.
“The Marquette County Health Department has been using the Northern Center for its vaccine clinics, and all indications are that's gone smoothly,” Erickson said. “We're also planning on being a vaccine center ourselves, to be able to provide vaccines for our faculty, staff and students. We have been advocating for that and we're all set up for it. We have a new ultra freezer for the Pfizer dosage. So we're just waiting in line for an allocation of the vaccine. If and when that happens, we'll certainly communicate that.”
NMU has doubled its monitoring efforts from the fall semester. It is testing about 300 individuals each week. Erickson said the mass testing event before classes began in January resulted in 13 admissions to Spalding Hall for quarantine/isolation, noticeably fewer than the 78 admitted after the fall Passport to Campus event.
Because Michigan's epidemic order remains in effect through Feb. 21, Erickson said restrictions on campus visitors and other conforming measures will continue at least through that date. His administration has started planning for the 2021-22 academic year.
“We are taking a very optimistic approach to fall,” Erickson said. “That is, we're preparing to be fully in person for the start of semester, but simultaneously realizing we may have to scale back a little if the vaccination levels are low by the time we would open for fall classes. The consensus is that it's easier to plan in person and roll back if we really need to than to plan remote and then realize we can go to in-person learning.”
Northern's headcount is down 7.4 percent this semester compared with last year, largely because of the pandemic, but graduate and Global Campus enrollments have increased. Freshmen admits and applications for the fall are also up. Erickson said there have been strides in an NMU Board of Trustees initiative to increase retention. Five embedded academic advisers have been hired to assist students in several departments.
When questioned about the possibility of additional furloughs or budget reductions, Erickson said they are not anticipated at this time. Enrollment and state funding have the biggest impacts on NMU's budget. The state appropriations process begins with the governor releasing her proposed budget this month. The House and Senate will follow with their own proposals, and a conference is typically required to finalize the agreement.
Erickson said ideally the state budget picture will be clear by late May so NMU can set tuition in early June. Northern will also receive federal COVID-19 stimulus funding, but is awaiting final regulations on how it can be used.
The forum was recorded and can be viewed in its entirety here.