Crain's Detroit Business: Kiantee Jones on Ilitch School preparation for fall semester
Two months after COVID-19 caused graduate business programs to bug out essentially overnight — moving instruction and other services online — it's still unclear what the new normal on campus will look like this fall. Meanwhile, colleges and universities are doing everything they can to head off slipping enrollment, from waiving application fees and approaching donors for extra scholarship funds to recruiting online. Many students have lost jobs or taken leaves of absence during the pandemic and are relying on unemployment. "The biggest issue we're seeing with our students is how to fund (school) — how are they going to pay for it?" said Kiantee Jones, assistant dean of graduate programs for Wayne State University. "We're looking forward to providing students with scholarships for the fall term." Wayne State will be giving all graduate business students who were financially impacted by COVID-19 scholarships in the fall. That's in addition to Wayne State scholarships that are normally available. Eligible students also can get money through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. CARES gives institutions funding for financially struggling students, although it isn't available for programs that were online-only pre-COVID-19. Wayne State also is waiving its $50 application fee to encourage students to apply. "Students are nervous about, 'If I do apply and get admitted, am I going to be able to go?' A lot of them are still in limbo," Jones said. In mid-May, Wayne State had 957 students enrolled in graduate business education classes for its spring/summer term, which began May 4. That's down about 4 percent, compared to 994 a year ago. For the upcoming fall term, which begins Sept. 1, the university had enrolled 947 students in those graduate programs, versus 985 a year earlier — also a decline of nearly 4 percent. The school normally would take applications until July 1, but that deadline is expected to be extended until the end of August. COVID has upended normal recruiting, since Wayne representatives can't visit companies to talk to employees, Jones said. They've responded by reaching out to human resources departments, sending materials to their own undergraduates and approaching candidates online. "We're doing virtual info sessions online and we're inviting students to come in via Zoom," Jones said. "We're always pushing out info on social media — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn."