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‘We’ve taken diligent efforts to protect our students’: University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown President

Dr. Jem Spectar, President of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss what safety measures the unviersity is implementing as coronavirus cases rise.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, many universities across the country are facing the prospects of more closures as we see the infection numbers rise on the coronavirus. I want to bring in Jem Spectar, He is the president of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. We've also got our very own Aarthi Swaminathan joining in on this conversation. And, Dr. Spectar, it's good to talk to you-- certainly a very timely conversation given that there's a lot of students that are headed to Thanksgiving break right now not sure whether they're going to be returning to campus.

We've seen a number of universities like the State University of New York taking really strict measures here, requiring students to test, for example, before heading out and only allowing them to leave campus if they test negative. How are you looking at this upcoming break and the potential for controlling this virus on your campus?

JEM SPECTAR: Well, we've taken diligent efforts to protect our students before heading out for Thanksgiving break. Students are required to shelter in place for a period of time as a measure to ensure that when they go home, their families will be safe.

AKIKO FUJITA: And when you talk about that, the family's being safe, I mean, are you expecting classes to resume after Thanksgiving? Or are you sort of looking at what a lot of university has done is to say once you go home, classes will not resume, at least in person, until January?

JEM SPECTAR: Classes do not resume in person until January, that's correct.

ZACK GUZMAN: When we're talking about this too, I mean, there have been a lot of concerns about cases on college campuses, but that hasn't necessarily been the case in this last wave. Obviously, a lot of your efforts seem to be tied to students going home for the Thanksgiving season here. But when you talk about those precautions and testing on campus, what have been the constraints on the testing sideline there in demand for tests and students getting this and how quickly you can get results back?

JEM SPECTAR: Well, we have had a consistent program of pool testing conducted through the University of Pittsburgh. And that has been fairly consistent. And for the most part, the prevalence rate has been very low on our campuses.

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: Dr. Specter, so when we talk a little bit about state funding and how a lot of states are cutting their budgets, especially for higher education, how does that factor in into how you're seeing the next semester go ahead? And we don't know when this virus is going to go away, but has that had an impact on just getting ready with testing and everything?

JEM SPECTAR: Well, funding is always a challenge in higher education. But for the most part. The testing regime has been very strong and has been robust throughout the term. We feel that we have taken very active and proactive measures, I should say, to ensure that students are being safe throughout the semester.

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: One of the interesting things that has come up when we talk about this health is some of the partnerships that schools are doing with online education. So I'm very curious what made you take on this decision from your standpoint?

JEM SPECTAR: Well, it was an opportunity to partner with a like-minded company as far as the issue of access and the issues of affordability and reduction of student loan debt. Outlier.org is a leader in this space, and Aaron Rasmussen put together a program for frontline workers that can help reduce the burden of taking college credits, especially at this time during the pandemic, for those who are sacrificing so much-- the frontline workers-- to help us get through this period.

AKIKO FUJITA: No question, doctor, there's been a lot of concern around affordability of higher education. That was brought to the forefront at the beginning of the school year when we saw a lot of universities try to incentivize enrollment, giving discounts, for example, in some cases for courses for those who were working full-time. How are you looking at enrollment numbers as you head to the second half of the year? Do you expect a drop-off, given the experience a lot of these students had in their first semester?

JEM SPECTAR: Well, our enrollment has been relatively stable. And the experience, while it's been challenging, the students on our campus have, for the most part, acclimated to the circumstances. And they've made the best of it. While it is not the traditional student experience that they've been accustomed to, the faculty, the staff, folks have gone all out to make it the best experience possible and to convey that sense that we are all in this together, and we'll get through it. And this too shall pass.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, the right attitude, certainly, for a lot of students who feel like they're kind of missing out on the usual college experience because of the pandemic. Dr. Jem Spectar joining us from the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, it's good to talk to you today.

JEM SPECTAR: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.