Ruth V. Watkins: Now more than ever, stay in school

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Ruth Watkins, president of the University of Utah, speaks at a news conference in the state's Emergency Operations Center on Thursday, March 12, 2020 addressing the current state of COVID-19 in Utah. Representatives from the Utah System of Higher Education, the Utah Board of Education, Utah Jazz, local health authorities and Utah Department of Health were also present.

This is an unsettling time. With classes moving online, our students and faculty are adapting to new ways of learning. Many of our students hold part- or full-time jobs that are also changing and, in some cases, disappearing, creating real and immediate financial challenges. With family, friends and the community not gathering as usual, it is understandable that many are feeling anxious and alone.

I want to express my deep appreciation for the support family and friends are providing to University of Utah students as we respond to challenges related to coronavirus. I also am grateful for the patience our students, faculty and staff have shown. Our faculty have done a remarkable job shifting to online courses; the care, concern and compassion they’ve shown our students is impressive and greatly appreciated.

I know that for many students it would be tempting to stop out, withdraw and not finish the Spring 2020 semester — with the idea that they will pick up their studies when things return to routine. That impulse is very understandable.

My advice to students: Don’t do it.

Now more than ever, stay in school. Complete this semester and remain on track for earning a degree. Our students have already invested a lot in this semester and in their academic careers; they are well on the path to a life-changing achievement, one that sets them up for the best opportunities in the future. In times of economic downturn, having a degree really matters, with degree holders earning more and at significantly less risk of unemployment than their nondegree-holding peers.

At the University of Utah, are doing everything we can to support our students. We announced grading options last week designed to relieve pressure on students if needed. Students may opt to continue their classes with a traditional letter grade or switch to a credit/no credit grade, with no impact on their GPAs or the limit on taking credit/no credit courses. Details about this are available through our Registrar’s Office.

All of Utah’s colleges and universities are invested in the success of our students and have resources to help them through the present challenge. At the University of Utah, we have implemented and enhanced many resources, such as:

  • An emergency fund that provides financial help, with support of generous donors and the Associated Students of the University of Utah, through our Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid

  • Online support from our Student Success Advocate team, including a new guide on how to succeed in online courses

  • The LEAP first-year learning communities’ faculty have rallied to provide engaging instruction for the remainder of the semester through online platforms, phone calls and encouragement

  • Telephone and online assistance from our Academic Advising Center

  • Counseling options that include telephone, online and telemental health for enrolled students and online resources for dealing with stress and anxiety

I know that even with all of these additional resources, some of our student will find this to be an incredibly challenging time. Let me just say to all our students: You are not alone. Your university or college is here to help. We will get through this together.

My message to students is to stay on their academic paths. The rewards for doing so will last a lifetime, long after the coronavirus pandemic fades. We will do all we can to help you through this period and emerge strong and well prepared for better days ahead.

(Official photo | University of Utah) Ruth V. Watkins | President, University of Utah

Ruth V. Watkins is president of The University of Utah.