University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis’s dire warnings of huge financial deficits in fall semester didn’t come true, he told UD’s Board of Trustees Tuesday.
The school had expected an operating shortfall of up to $30 million. Assanis said it was actually closer to $9 million, a number that could be “completely wiped out with a solid winter session,” Assanis said.
He credited the involvement of staff members in planning COVID-19 precautions, especially Dr. Tim Dowling who was director of Student Health Services and now has accepted a job as associate clinical professor at Touro University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in California.
More than 90% of the UD community was vaccinated and more than 100,000 surveillance tests have been administered since September 2020 to keep the virus from spreading. There was no evidence of classroom spread, Assanis said.
Students and staff are being encouraged to obtain booster shoots as soon as they are eligible, he said. He said he wasn’t sure what problems the more infectious Omicron variant would create.
“But I’m staying conservatively optimistic that we will know how to deal with it,” he said.
A drop in the number of students because of COVID-19 will roll through the system for years, he said. But bringing many people back to campus also has resulted in increases in first-year enrollment, graduate enrollment and UD’s first-to-second-year retention rate.
UD already has already received nearly 26,000 applications for the Class of 2026, which will star in the fall. That’s a 7.8% increase from 2020 and reflects increases from Black, Hispanic, multi-race, Delawarean and international students, he said.
The school also is trying to make the institution more accessible for all Blue Hen hopefuls with special programs in Kent and Sussex County. They include a targeted admissions strategy and hosting events that increase UD’s visibility and engagement in underrepresented areas.
UD is extending its Delaware First fundraising campaign, striving for a new goal of $1 billion, Assanis said.
“The end game is all about our people, our culture and our operations,” Assanis said. “We want to make an even stronger impact on the world.”
Assanis told the board that the university is revisiting its strategic plan to refresh it. Since March, a 23-person steering committee chaired by Assanis and several working groups comprising 144 stakeholders across the University have been seeking recommendations.
The final product, which is still being refined, will revolve around five strategic pillars, including prioritizing and expanding student success in the post-pandemic era; building a social justice foundation to support a diverse, inclusive and intercultural campus; expanding interdisciplinary and global opportunities; redefining creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship; and reimagining intellectual and physical capital for a sustainable and boundless campus.
“During the pandemic, we continued delivering without really using any of our physical assets or our campus — we are cloud-based,” Assanis said. “Think about what we can do when we continue to use our wonderful campus augmented with the boundless reality, connectivity and online learning that the internet offers.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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