Despite initial fears that fall enrollment could be down as much as 15%, Coastal Carolina University officials announced Thursday that their enrollment only saw about a 3.5% decrease due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is not as great of a decrease as we were thinking May and June,” said Amanda Craddock, Coastal Carolina University’s associate provost for enrollment, during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting. “I’m very pleased with the work of the enrollment staff … we jumped in and did everything we could.”
Last fall, enrollment was 10,484. This fall, the preliminary enrollment figure is 10,120.
"We're still very positive," Craddock said. "It speaks to the work of everyone on our campus … we were able to keep students engaged in a variety of ways."
The only concerning decrease they saw was with deferred admissions, and Craddock said usually the number of students who are officially admitted but decide to wait a semester is normally around 60. This year, she said, it was around 170.
“We did get a significant increase there but we’re doing an outreach campaign to keep them connected to the university,” she said.
Faculty Senate Chairman Brian Bunton told the board that faculty had not seen quite as many issues as they thought they might in terms of students following the COVID-19 protocols.
“We’ve had fewer challenges than we expected, few problems with students not wearing masks," he said. "Those have not appeared as much as we thought."
Technology was definitely fraught with more problems, he said.
“There were more challenges in terms of technology and teaching both to in-class students and online,” Bunton said. “Also managing both expectations of students online and in-person. Those are some of the stress points for faculty right now that we’re trying to work with.”
Teaching virtually is still a very unfamiliar for most faculty who have been teaching for years or decades, he said.
Moving into cold and flu season, he expects more challenges in that regard.
“It would not be so stressful for the faculty if they did not care so much about the students for their success,” Bunton said. “We’re in a better place than we were in August, still working through ‘adapt to survive’ … trying to figure out the brand-new world that was thrust upon us with this crisis and using that to move forward in terms of what the future of education is going to look like. We’re strong. We’re resolute. We’re on a good path.”
CCU’s Chanticleer Athletic Foundation Executive Director Chris Johnson briefed the trustees on how things ended up this fiscal year.
Despite the postponement of the Chanticleer Gala, a last-minute virtual auction generated $25,000 in revenue for the foundation.
“I have to compliment my staff for getting creative,” Johnson said, noting that the total membership donations for CAF totaled $852,000 for the fiscal year.
The Chanticleer football team is undefeated and in the Top 25 for the first time. Coastal plays Georgia Southern on Saturday at noon.
“We want to keep it up,” Coastal Athletics Director Matt Hogue said. “With this type of success and what’s been happening over the last months, a lot of eyeballs and impressions have occurred, which is a big part of what we are trying to achieve.”
Hogue noted that men's soccer is currently 3-0, women's soccer is 5-3, and volleyball is 6-0.
All other sports’ fall championships have been moved to the spring, but Hogue said football was, of course, an outlier in that situation.
Hogue said the team has been following Sun Belt Conference requirements regarding COVID-19 monitoring and testing, and said the team has tested negative the last three weeks.
“Now that we are playing games, every week we have asymptomatic testing in order to meet protocols to play," he said. "Anytime we have someone who shows symptoms, they will always be tested immediately."
The university also recently acquired a rapid test machine, which gives COVID-19 results in about 15 minutes.
As of right now, the Myrtle Beach Bowl is a go, and Hogue said the executive committee will meet soon to begin planning.
“According to the information we’ve been provided, the majority of bowl games will move on as normal," he said. "There have been a couple that had been canceled … that were not necessarily connected to the Sun Belt."
The team will likely scale down travel; instead of a four or five-day trip, they will keep it to two or three.
“The bowl system appears poised to move forward,” Hogue said.
Dr. Michael Benson, incoming CCU president, was officially and unanimously voted in by the Board of Trustees on Friday morning.
“To have a unanimous vote of the board means a great deal,” Benson said to the board. “You are giving me ample room to display my unrelenting and insatiable enthusiasm on behalf of higher education … there is nothing more important than investing in the education of our citizenry.”
The board went back and forth on options for a Fall graduation ceremony. While a virtual ceremony was initially being planned, the board is now considering the possibility of an in-person ceremony sometime in mid-December after many students voiced opinions on the subject.
Exiting President David DeCenzo said that the school is still restricted as to how many people can be put in a room, and that while the football stadium is a viable option, there needs to be a backup plan.
“If we were to try to do it in the HTC Center, we’d have to have seven ceremonies. We would not be able to accommodate anybody in the arena but the graduates,” DeCenzo said. “Even with a football stadium graduation we still would be limited in terms of the number of guests each graduate could bring.”
Trustee Gene Spivey said he thought it was about time those students got a graduation, and Trustee Wyatt Henderson agreed.
“These kids need graduation. I’m getting calls every week of ‘When are we going to have it?’” Henderson said.
Vice-Chair Delan Stevens said he’d talked to a lot of students while out in town, and he said the two biggest things he heard from them was that they want a graduation, and they really want to get back into the classroom fully.
The suggestion was made that an in-person graduation be planned and then the school could arrange to have a virtual ceremony as a backup plan, but final announcements regarding graduation will be made in the coming weeks.
The board also discussed the possibility of a future in-person ceremony for the students who had virtual graduations in May and August, but that has yet to be decided.
Students will be done with in-person classes after Thanksgiving Break, but will still have two more weeks of online learning before Christmas Break, according to Ennis.
However the spring schedule has been amended from the original plan.
Ennis confirmed that the start date for the semester has been moved out a week to January 19.
“We do not anticipate any fully online sessions for the spring,” Ennis said.
This will give more time to rebuild some classes in the event any online learning is needed, and also to take a week out of the flu season.
Spring Break will be aligned with the Easter holiday in April, instead of the usual mid-March timeframe, which will also line up with the Horry County Schools spring break schedule.