SOU faces COVID-19 obstacles

ASHLAND, Ore. — Like many colleges around the country, Southern Oregon University is facing obstacles because of the pandemic.

In early May, SOU furloughed almost 400 employees one day per week for the rest of the calendar year. VP of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Neil Woolf says the furloughed employees are able to receive partial unemployment through the Oregon Work Share Program. With the added weekly $600 check from the federal government some employees are earning more money than before.

“By not laying off people, by going to a furlough and leveraging the federal stimulus fund that actually put many of our employees for a few months in a situation where they can better king of weather this pandemic,” Woolf said.

SOU’s biggest loss of revenue is through housing and dining. As of early May, it was down nearly $3 million, with an added $1 million lost in enrollment.

“Because of some of the uncertainty around what fall will look like, we are seeing students who normally would have traveled for school stay home,” Woolf said.

Despite the loss in spring term, Woolf says new student enrollment for fall is actually up compared to this time last year with more students turning to the Jackson Josephine Pledge Program, a more inexpensive way for local high school seniors to get their college degree in three years.

“What’s too early to tell is the number of students that will return and what’s really important to them is what type of experience they’ll have this fall,” Woolf said.

Woolf says students overwhelmingly voiced they would prefer to have in person class if at all possible. That’s still the plan for fall term.

“One of the great things about sou is because of the relative low number of cases we’ve seen in Jackson county, we’re able to plan for and look to offer an in person experience,” Woolf said.

With many students facing financial hardships, the university is also increasing scholarships available for those impacted by COVID-19.

Woolf says study abroad programs are still in question, but doesn’t expect abroad programs to be big in the fall. SOU says it’s closely following the CDC and the state’s travel guidelines.

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