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VU holding its own amid higher ed declines

While enrollment at Vincennes University is down over last year, the institution is faring well, officials reported Wednesday, when compared to other universities across the country.

Sarah Fortune, the university’s new director of external relations, gave an extensive enrollment report during the VU Board of Trustees’ regular meeting — one held via Zoom — during which she said enrollment at 4-year colleges everywhere is down by an average of 20%.

Community colleges, ones similar to VU, she said, are down anywhere from 10% to 30%.

Enrollment at VU is only down by 10%, she said, with 5,454 students enrolled at this same time last year compared to 5,227 now.

As a point of interest, she said enrollment of Black students is falling but enrollment of Hispanic students is steadily increasing, with just two in 2018, 13 in 2019 and 16 this year.

The average Grade Point Average of incoming students is also increasing, she said, going from 2.8 in 2018 to 2.86 last year and 2.94 now.

The real point of concern, she said, is the number of students who express interest in VU — and apply — but don’t actually enroll.

For this current fall semester, she said there were 858 students that applied but weren’t actually admitted. The reasons, she said, could be many, perhaps an incomplete application, not following through on sending transcripts to admissions officials or even not being able to afford the $20 application fee.

Perhaps, she ventured, the university could do more to help.

“To me, when we’re dealing with first generation students, we have an opportunity to assist these students,” she said. “I think one thing we can do is explore more resources to provide the support they need.”

The Vincennes campus’ ”yield rate” is also troublesome, she said. The yield rate is calculated based on how many students apply and are accepted versus how many actually enroll.

Currently, the yield rate for the Vincennes campus is just 34%.

One possible reason for that, she said, is that VU participates in a program called College Go, one where high school students practice applying for colleges by filling out many applications.

Those numbers, she indicated, are included in VU’s yield rate.

“So I’m not sure we’re getting accurate data,” she said. “And we can’t address this if we don’t know how many students are actually interested in coming to VU.”

By comparison, Fortune reported that Jasper’s enrollment has increased by 15%, going from 467 students in 2018 to 529 this year.

Jasper’s yield rate is also much higher at 79%.

“So we’ll be working with the Jasper’s admissions team to see what we can learn from them,” Fortune told the board.

The university’s distance education program saw its enrollment increase by 2% over last year, she said, but there is still much room for improvement as 64% of those that were granted admission didn’t actually enroll.

“So we need to make sure we can get someone all the way from consideration to becoming a student on one of our campuses or in distance ed,” she said.

VU officials, she added, will continue looking at ways to recruit new students and assist them in the application process. They’re also looking to invest in a new software program that will automate the admissions process and allow for “better communications flow” between potential students and the university.

They also plan to evaluate things like campus tours and promotional materials to see if improvements can be made there, and more efforts will be focused on retention as the university loses as many as 100 students in the first few weeks of classes, Fortune said.

Some of the university’s most popular programs, according to Fortune’s data, continue to be nursing, homeland security, business management, machinery repair and aviation flight technology.

The programs with the largest enrollment gains over last year were aviation flight at 37%, technology at 26% and pre-veterinary technician at 29%.

Chemical science also saw a bump in enrollment.

David Tucker, the university’s vice-president of workforce development and community services, also on Wednesday told the board of a new partnership with Amazon.

The university is now the site of an apprenticeship program for Amazon employees from all over the country, specifically in the fields of mechatronics and robotics.

Amazon, Tucker explained, has a need for at least 1,200 new mechatronics and robotics technicians per year for the next ten years, and VU will help to train them.

Amazon looked to VU, Tucker said, as they new VU’s “strength in training and experience in apprenticeship programs.”

“It just made sense to partner with us,” he told the board.

The first group of 20 apprentice students graduated on Aug. 7, Tucker said, and have “all gone back to their respective fulfillment centers across America as level one technicians.”

The university hopes to train as many as 300 Amazon apprentices per year with a goal of eventually raising that to 600.

“We’re in talks with Amazon to double the program already,” Tucker told the board. “They’ve come to us and asked, ‘How many more students can you handle?’

“So, hopefully, we’ll be able to double the population of Amazon students on our campus by 2021.”

VU president Dr. Chuck Johnson called it a “tremendous opportunity for VU” and a program the first of its kind for the university.

And it’s the result, he said, of “remaining nimble” in terms of higher education and moving “at the speed of business.”

“This is the very thing higher ed should be doing,” he said.

COVID-19 cases 'exploding,' health officer says

Knox County reported nearly 30 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, representing the second-highest single-day jump.

“Things are just exploding,” said county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart. “There is a lot of community spread happening right now. These cases are here, there and everywhere.

“And once that starts happening, it’s hard to stop.”

Stewart said three additional cases were reported on Wednesday; another 28 followed on Thursday.

There are currently 13 COVID-19 positive patients being treated at Good Samaritan Hospital. Among them, three are in critical condition, Stewart said.

Vincennes University officials on Wednesday reported five cases system-wide to members of the Board of Trustees during their regular monthly meeting.

There are four cases at the Vincennes campus, all of them among commuter students, according to VU president Dr. Chuck Johnson, as well as one student in Jasper.

There are “a handful of folks” awaiting test results, he said, and more are quarantined as a result of contact tracing.

Classrooms have been transformed, Johnson said, to allow for greater social distancing, and Plexiglass has been added to offices that directly deal with the public.

University officials, too, have set aside space in both on- and off-campus residence halls for quarantining students.

“We’re arranging meals for them and making sure they have adequate support and medical care,” he said.

The university is still not allowing any public use of its facilities, and they’ve closed both the bowling alley and aquatic center at least through Labor Day.

The rec center is open, he said, but with “limited services.”

Johnson, too, said after Labor Day, he is prohibiting any gatherings of 50 or more people without prior authorization through his office.

And they’ve launched social media campaigns encouraging students to wear masks; new signage, too, has popped up all over campus.

“I know students can get a little lax, a little comfortable, but we have to be as diligent as we can,”he told the board.

Stewart said the county’s public schools, too, are “keeping their heads above water.”

The Vincennes Community School Corp. reported five cases at Lincoln High School earlier this month but none in more than a week.

The North Knox School Corp. is reporting six active cases at the Jr. Sr. High School and another two cases at the Intermediate School, while South Knox is reporting four cases at the Middle High School.

Stewart, too, said the Lodge of the Wabash continues to see cases with another positive reported there on Thursday.

He is also working with a couple of local businesses, he said, that are seeing spread and “need to be stricter” in their COVID-19 safety policies.

“The problem is that it’s so widespread in the community at this point,” he said. “And that really frightens me.

“It’s also not just us. It’s other communities, like Pike, Daviess, Sullivan and Gibson counties. They all have relatively large numbers,” he said.

Knox County currently has a total of 303 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and its 7-day infection rate is just over 10%.

Gibson County has 301 cases, Pike County has 84, Daviess has 430, and Sullian has 271.

The state saw another 971 confirmed cases on Thursday and another 18 deaths.

Knox County has had three recorded deaths from COVID-19 so far.

There have now been 89,359 Hoosiers test positive for the novel coronavirus. Among them, there have been 3,041 deaths.

The state’s 7-day infection rate stands at 6.6%.

SWMD still pursuing new building

The Knox County Solid Waste Management District held a closed-door, executive session Tuesday morning to discuss expanding its square footage and, as a result, its services.

Though specific details about the potential purchase are currently being withheld, SWMD director Michelle Smith described the prospective building as “pretty perfect for what we want.”

The location meets the district’s needs in terms of square footage, she said, and is more centrally-located for better access to everyone in the county.

“But there’s a lot of things that have to come together before we go public with it,” Smith added.

Smith has said the organization, currently located at 1303 Willow St., is maxed out on storage space and has no room for expanding services.

“Our ultimate goal is to have everything in one space,” she said.

“We want a space large enough to accommodate our office as well as our Household Hazardous Waste drop off, so we could expand our services and the items we can take from the public.”

The district currently has a partnership with the Vincennes Street and Sanitation Department at 1600 Bayout St. for its HHW collection site.

More space, Smith said, means the possibility of accepting additional items from residents, things like old tires and latex paints.

Additionally, she said the district is likely acquiring two more recycling trailers.

One, Smith said, belonged to Oaktown, which recently suspended its recycling services altogether. Another trailer will likely be coming from the Wheatland facility.

The problem, Smith said, is that SWMD has no place to put the additional pieces of equipment.

“We already have the Oaktown trailer in our possession, and want to use it to expand our services in Vincennes Township,” she said. “We just don’t have a location for it.”

Knox County’s SWMD doesn’t own any property and therefore relies on partnerships with other agencies and organizations to find homes for its recycling centers.

In Monroe City, the district uses space outside of the Blue Jean Center, and in Sandborn the recycling trailer is located on city property utilized by the water department.

“We maintain all of our sites — put up fencing, have a yard office and have running water to stay safe and clean — but because we don’t own any properties, we have partnerships,” Smith said.

And, she added, since the district is acquiring new trailers and looking to expand its services, they’re in need of new partnering agencies or organizations with some outdoor space to spare.

Smith said she knows a lack of easy access to recycling centers in the county is a current problem, particularly after Republic Services stopped offering its free recycling drop-off to the public earlier this year.

Because Republic had long accepted recyclable items from the public, Smith said there had been no need for SWMD to have its own extensive recycling program set up.

“We get a lot of phone calls from people asking where they can recycle, especially from those who live outside Vincennes city limits,” she said.

“It’s a problem, and we know recycling is a valuable service. We just have to find locations,” Smith added.

In other news, Smith says the district is looking to fill two part-time positions. Monroe City is in need of a recycling attendant, and KCSWMD is also hiring a recycling assistant to haul and empty the recycling trailers from the various locations.

Those interested are encouraged to call 812-895-4878 or email kcsolid