Statement by USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman on Summer Session, Early Graduation Options for Select Health Professions Students, Test-Optional Fall Admission, and Student Financial Aid Packages

Baltimore, Md. (April 6, 2020)

Thank you, Madam Chair. This update comes at the beginning of what’s predicted to be a grave and sobering week for our nation. Virologists and public health experts are forecasting a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths across the U.S. And, of course, the question that most people so desperately want an answer to—When will we be out of the woods?—is obviously out of our reach.

Amid so much devastating news, I think our one glimmer of hope is early evidence that social isolation measures can and do help flatten the curve of this disease. I thank everyone within the University System—our students, faculty, and staff—for doing their part, for making the best of this extraordinarily difficult situation, and for coming together in a spirit of solidarity and strength to fulfill our mission of knowledge, discovery, and service—a mission that I’d venture matters now more than ever before.

Because we can’t know when some sense of normalcy might return to our routines, universities Systemwide have reported that they’re prepared to continue remote instruction through the summer. This preparation is actually a little less arduous for our institutions than it was this spring, given that many summer courses are already taught online or in a distance format.

While we’ve not made a final decision about our summer sessions, we know that early preparation is key to a smooth roll-out. We do have that luxury for summer, which we didn’t have this spring, and so I thank our leaders for modeling what remote instruction at their institutions might look like months down the road.

Our universities are also hard at work putting together their freshman classes in this new and different environment. Orientations have gone virtual, and incoming students are getting to know one another online. Given that the spring administration dates for the SAT and ACT entrance exams have been canceled nationwide, most of our universities have already moved temporarily to test-optional admissions.

In our phone call last week, I updated you on how institutions are faring with remote teaching and learning, and I was glad to be able to report no widespread, systemic issues. Now the institutions are digging deeper to find and solve problems that could impede teaching, learning, and working.

Several presidents have told me they’re soliciting feedback from students, faculty, and staff to get a pulse on the challenges they’re encountering, so that attention can be focused on fixing identified gaps and bottlenecks. These assessments can help institutions deploy the targeted support their students and employees need, and forestall issues down the line should we find ourselves in a remote environment for a while.

I’ve also had several university leaders share with me their concerns about the mental health and well-being of their people should social distancing requirements persist for months. We know that remote instruction and telework—the way we’re currently doing them—just aren’t sustainable long-term for many families who have sizable obligations outside their jobs.

These families are feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Students, faculty, and staff are feeling alone and afraid. And so we must start developing and sharing ways to build resilience against isolation, fatigue, stress, and burn-out.

I know many universities have expanded their telehealth and tele-counseling services. They’re sharing stress-reduction strategies online. They’re streaming guided meditations and restorative physical workouts. These tools will become ever more important as we see this crisis take a brutal toll on our mental and emotional well-being.

A big part of this stress, of course, is financial. And we’re doing what we can to alleviate it. Given widespread job losses in the wake of this pandemic, our universities understand that students’ financial aid packages for future semesters will have to be adjusted. For many families, their expected contribution is now dramatically lower than what we assumed before the outbreak and associated economic downturn.

So we’ll be working with federal and state leaders to see what relief may be available to families. And we do hope that some dollars packaged in the CARES Act might be funneled to financial aid.

Additionally, I shared with you last week our universities’ efforts to inject more money into their emergency funds for students in need. I shared how universities sounded a call to their alumni and friends—through giving campaigns and challenges—asking them to help us help our students. The response has been overwhelming. Systemwide, our universities have directed about $900,000 to students experiencing financial hardship.

I must single out our Board Chair, Linda Gooden, as among those who’ve been moved to give. Chair Gooden issued a challenge to her fellow regents, pledging to match their emergency fund contributions dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000. We hope to reach our $100,000 goal in about a week, so that we can begin distributing this aid equally among our institutions. Linda, I’m so grateful to you, and to every regent who’s donated to the cause.

I do want to note that beyond our obligations to our students and families, the University System does, in fact, have an obligation to the state—an obligation to help state officials in their emergency response, however we’re able to. The foremost way we do that is through our people. The University System graduates 4,000 health professions students every year. Many of these alumni are the heroes our communities are relying on every single day of this crisis.

As we expect the COVID-19 surge in Maryland to overwhelm our corps of responding health providers, the state is hoping to lay in thousands of additional professionals to expand our capacity in meeting patient needs and relieving those who’ve been on the front lines for so long. I’ve mentioned the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps as a vehicle to do this.

Last week, we asked each university to issue an urgent call to the retired health professionals among their alumni to help us address the COVID-19 crisis in Maryland. We’re linking these alumni to both volunteer and paid opportunities within the state. If we can tap into this community of emergency medical services clinicians who are no longer active in the workforce, we could alleviate our deficit of health personnel and support the workers who are already sacrificing so much for us all.

The System’s current health professions students are also permitted to volunteer through the state’s Medical Reserve Corps and become part of Maryland’s emergency response efforts. I thank those who’ve chosen to volunteer and put their knowledge and skills to work for Marylanders.

There’s still another way we can supplement our corps of responding health care providers, and that’s to graduate early select students who’ve demonstrated competency so that we can initiate them into the workforce.

Towson University and UMB’s School of Nursing have contacted the Maryland Board of Nursing about extending this flexibility to some nursing students slated to graduate next month. The board, in turn, has guided the universities in how to comply with state regulations. And this information is being shared with other nursing programs Systemwide so that they, too, might consider an early-graduation option for students. This flexibility could mean a few hundred more nurses are deployed now, when we need them the most—when hundreds of lives are on the line.

Additionally, we were alerted just this morning that the Maryland Board of Social Work Examiners is willing to work with us and with state leadership to relax requirements so that students might receive provisional licenses. These are graduating social work students now preparing for licensure exams—exams that have, in fact, have been suspended during the COVID-19 crisis. Again, this flexibility would mean we’d be putting a few hundred more social workers into the field now, when our existing corps of professionals is taxed with serving an exploding caseload of individuals and families in desperate need of help.

In both cases—early nursing graduates and early social work graduates—we’d look for mentored placements in low-risk scenarios, where they’d be providing critical support to our front-line responders. We hope to have these provisional licensure arrangements finalized this week.

I also want to mention here the flexibility we received last week from the State Department of Education regarding our student-teachers. Across the System, we have close to 1,000 students expected to graduate this spring from teacher preparation programs who still need to complete internship hours to fulfill their state certification requirements.

Our colleges of education are partnering with their local school districts and, for the most part, they’ve been able to keep students in their current internships, where they lead or co-lead instruction with their mentor teachers in this new distance learning environment. We’re grateful to MSDE for its flexibility, and to the local school systems that have been working so hard to support our students and ensure their on-time graduation.

Before I leave this topic of the University System’s support to the state, I’d like to update you on how we’re making USM assets available for Maryland’s COVID-19 response. As I’ve mentioned before, several of our universities have been asked (by the state, by local jurisdictions, by public and private hospitals) to make university assets available for their own use—for instance, residence halls for first-responder and medical personnel housing; open spaces for staging, and for supply storage and distribution; shuttle buses for transportation; and personal protective equipment for front-line workers.

We now have an MOU template and resources that we’ve shared Systemwide to help universities enter into these arrangements, and to ensure they’ve taken into account appropriate legal and logistical considerations.

I’d like to end my update by thanking the state’s executive and legislative leaders who are working closely with the University System to ensure that our emergency response is aligned, and that we’re mutually making decisions that keep our students and employees safe.

Chair Gooden and I had a productive discussion last week with Senate President Bill Ferguson and Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones. They know we’re acting to support our people through these very difficult times and to sustain an academic enterprise that has always been—and will continue to be—a source of tremendous strength, innovation, and resilience for this great state. Thank you.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719