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First semester back on campus a win for Illinois State University

Terri Goss Kinzy
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT
Illinois State University President Terri Goss Kinzy.

The president of Illinois State University said the first semester back on campus following last year's pandemic shutdown showed students were resilient.

There were concerns about the level of student learning coming out of high schools with a year of online classes and about collegiate readiness. ISU President Terri Goss Kinzy said the worries may have been misplaced.

"Looking at midterm grades, in fact, they were performing better than in the fall of 2019," said Goss Kinzy.

Goss Kinzy said that is even though there are, in effect, two freshmen classes, since last year's freshmen did not attend in person.

"I think they were so highly motivated they exceeded a lot of our concerns. For example we know right now our spring enrollment is up more than 3% over last year. That is a really great marker of how they have adapted to life in campus," said Goss Kinzy.

Another sign students are adapting well is a record number of signups for student groups and activities, she said.

There might be several reasons students are doing better than feared. There was additional federal financial aid to relieve pressure on students. Goss Kinzy mused that because of the concern about student outcomes faculty and staff have been more proactive in support of students who need it. And she said part of the credit may go to the students themselves.

"The students were maybe more resilient than we gave them credit for," said Goss Kinzy.

One challenge: The president regrets there is not more space in residence halls. That is limited because of COVID restrictions and has forced some first-year students who would normally be required to live on campus to find space elsewhere. Goss Kinzy said that, in turn, has pushed ISU staff to do more to reach out to freshmen to assess their transition to campus.

As the pandemic shows no sign of abating, many in people across society have stress, ISU students included, not just from the virus but from the uncertainty about what comes next. Goss Kinzy said the administration continues to manage through the pandemic and is so far meeting higher demand for mental health services.

"We did not see an expansive extension of wait times for mental health services. We planned for capacity and were able to meet it," she said.

Goss Kinzy said ISU is also trying hard to make sure students can continue to use their mental health providers at home if they have established relationships.

She said the best way to manage uncertainty is to communicate regularly with everyone on campus and to be consistent.

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