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Members of the Ohio University Board of Trustees meet on Thursday in Walter Hall (FILE: The BoT is currently not meeting in Walter Hall, but virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic). 

Board of Trustees discuss university’s COVID-19 dashboard, enrollment decline

Governance and Compensation Committee

The Ohio University Board of Trustees met virtually on Thursday to participate in annual ethics training during the Governance and Compensation Committee meeting.

Members of public boards in the state of Ohio must participate in training on ethics laws on an annual basis, which is provided by the Ohio Ethics Commission. 

Stacey Bennett, OU general counsel, led the training.

Topics covered during training included conflicts of interest, public contracts, gifts, and confidentiality. 

An ethical issue is when the personal, financial, or fiduciary interests of trustees, their families, or business associates are involved in a situation before the officials.

The use of public position to obtain a public contract for trustees, their family members, or business associates is prohibited, according to Chapter 102 of the Ohio Revised Code. Doing so may result in felony violation, and/or a void in the individual’s contract. Members also cannot profit from a contract with the university unless said contract was competitively bid on and awarded to the lowest bidder.

A public contract is “any purchase or acquisition of any property or services, including employment, and casual, as needed purchases, and any design, construction, alteration, repair, or maintenance of any public property,” according to the presentation.

Exceptions in which a trustee may have an interest in a public contract are if the purchase is a necessity, if the goods or services provided are unobtainable elsewhere, if the service provided is the same or better than service provided to other clients and if the public official does not participate, if the contract is at an arm's length, and if the university has full knowledge of the member’s interest.

Any trustee of a public college or university is also prohibited from accepting anything of substantial value, which includes gifts, travel, meals, lodging payments, and consulting fees from improper sources.

According to 102.03 (D) and (E) in the Ohio Revised Code, an improper source is a giver who is doing business with, seeking to do business with, is regulated by, or has a specific interest in the prior matters.

Additionally, a trustee is prohibited from disclosing confidential information obtained in their position without appropriate authorization.

Academic and Student Success Committee

The Academic and Student Success Committee discussed the COVID-19 dashboard and declining enrollment during its meeting.

Universities across the country are seeing a declining enrollment from students who are feeling unsure about attending college amidst COVID-19 concerns and financial issues.

Dr. Gillian Ice, an OU professor and special assistant to the president for public health operations, updated the board on what the COVID-19 dashboard’s data represents. The dashboard will help OU determine where the outbreaks are occurring and how to stop them. 

There are three strategies OU is following to find and stop the spread of the coronavirus on campus. The first is through students calling the COVID-19 hotline, which is managed by OhioHealth, in order to alert the university of a possible outbreak. The second would be students can fill out an incident report if an incident where an individual with COVID-19 could be involved. The last is asymptomatic testing, Ice said.

“Many states across the country are seeing enrollment decline, so that’s not a surprise to us,”  said Candace Boeninger, interim vice provost for strategic enrollment management. “We knew that there were a lot of challenges that students were facing in college-going in general, fear being one of the most prominent ones but also some other significant challenges related to finances.”

OU’s total undergraduate enrollment has gone down 8.2% since 2019 prompting prevention techniques to be put in place this fall, Boeninger said. These techniques include, but are not limited to, the Ohio Honors program, revised OHIO signature award, and aggressive FAFSA completion campaigns.

FAFSA student aid for OU has gone down by 3.5% in all aspects and the returning PELL student aid has gone down by 4.6%. Students of color have been applying for aid at fewer rates across the board, Boeninger said.

“This is concerning for an institution like ours that is committed to access,” Boeinger said.

“We’ve got some work to do to help students understand the importance of this process and to get them some forward momentum in their college-going pre-enrollment behaviors.”

The University of Cincinnati has seen an increase in their total enrollment but a decrease in their incoming freshman. The increase is from transfer students because UC has seen a large portion of students who want to stay closer to home. 

Ohio State University sees the opposite, where they have an increase in incoming freshmen but see a decrease in overall student enrollment. OSU enrolled 18% more international students than OU for the last semester, Boeinger said.

In order to combat enrollment issues like these, OU has set in place “continuing enrollment initiatives.” 

These initiatives include things such as the addition of new scholarships, promotion of the OHIO Guarantee+, focus on out-of-state recruitment, various partnerships, and reinstating campus visits with COVID-19 conscious rules and regulations.

Bekah Bostick, Mia Jevack, and Anna Millar contributed to this report.

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