Classes are set to start at Sul Ross State University on Aug. 24, and many have wondered how enrollment might be affected by the coronavirus.

President Pete Gallego’s Chief of Staff Mike Pacheco said that so far, fall semester enrollment was about the same as the past two years, but with NCAA Divisions I and II postponing fall sports because of the virus, there was still some uncertainty.

“We’re still expecting student athletes to attend, and we’re encouraging them to because this is a good semester for them to just be students and get their GPAs up,” said Pacheco.

As far as student athletes perhaps transferring to other colleges where they might be able to play fall sports, Pacheco said they hadn’t looked deeply into that.

“Right now, the superficial information we have is that they’re just not going to do anything. Of course, there are some who will be leaving. We really don’t know,” he said.

Numbers presented last week at the Texas State University System Board of Regents meeting in Conroe showed freshman applications for the fall semester at Sul Ross down 31% over 2018, and down 25% from 2019. For new transfers, applications decreased 20% over 2018, and were down 19% from 2019.

Pacheco pointed out those were July numbers, and didn’t include the most recent activity.

“We typically have a very late student body registration,” he said. “As of Friday, we were down about 5%. It’s also not odd to have kids showing up to register the day before classes start. We’re working hard to make sure those who want to continue their education can do so.”

He also noted enrollment for the university’s Masters programs had increased, and stressed the university placed student retention high on its priority list.

Sul Ross will offer both in-person and virtual classes this fall, but it depends upon the classes, and the delivery method most suitable for each individual.

Said Pacheco, “A lot of students want face-to-face, and for some classes you just need a hands-on experience. But for the most part, a good amount of students are going to have face-to-face classes. We’re being very lenient with them and with the faculty to be accommodating.”

University officials have consulted with their peers at schools outside the system to get a feel for what they’re doing and to share information. All are strictly following Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders, and consulting the CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services for current coronavirus information. 

A mandatory mask policy for all Sul Ross campuses has been in place since late June, and that will continue. The university will close many group areas to encourage social distancing and discourage students from congregating. The cafeteria will be open for takeout orders only.

“It’s an interesting time to have taken over, and we’re doing everything we know to do. President Gallego came in just two-and-half months ago, in the middle of all of this,” Pacheco said. “But Sul Ross is a special place, and the Big Bend is a special place that means a lot to so many, so we’re really excited to make Sul Ross a beacon for the area and the community.”

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