An uphill battle: Tri-Cities private institutions embrace reality of COVID-19 pandemic

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — While large universities in our region are dealing with impacts of COVID-19 it brings the question: what about our local private institutions?

News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun spoke to several local university leaders to find out about their biggest challenges and how they plan to overcome them as students return in just a matter of days.

Emory & Henry College, located in Emory,Virginia

It is move-in day at Emory & Henry College.

“We have been so excited to have people back on campus, and everything student I have met this morning has been thrilled,” Emory & Henry student Elizabeth McCall said. “I will be here on campus for my classes but I do have some friends who will be taking remote classes.”

Emory & Henry College President Dr. John W. Wells said, “It is a challenge. There’s no doubt about that.”

“Emory & Henry has survived the Civil War, it survived the Great Depression, it survived two World Wars. It survived all kinds of historical challenges, and we’ll rise through this challenge as well,” Wells said.

One of the challenges is how to stay financially afloat.

Tusculum University, located in Greeneville, Tennessee

“Emory and Henry is like a lot of small colleges we are an institution that depends upon a strong enrollment and we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of support from alumni and friends in the community,” Wells said.

While Emory & Henry will not have final enrollment numbers until next week, Tusculum University is already preparing for a decrease.

“We are looking at about a 50 student loss for enrollment for this fall,” Tusculum University President Dr. Scott Hummel said.

Hummel said the CARES Act funding is helping ease some of the financial burden.

“We have applied for a variety of different grants to help with dealing with COVID and we’ve also been pleased with the number of donors,” Hummel said.

It is also a similar story at Milligan University. They are preparing for students to return knowing there is still an element of uncertainty because of COVID-19.

Milligan University, located in Elizabethton, Tennessee

“We anticipate a pretty strong enrollment. We do expect at this point to be down slightly in terms of new students,” Milligan University President Dr. Bill Greer said. “Retention looks to be very strong.”

Just like Emory & Henry College, Greer said they rely on a strong donor base.

“We also very, very much benefit from a strong donor base, a strong alumni base that’s very loyal to Milligan and has stepped up in a big way to support us in this COVID pandemic period,” Dr. Greer said.

Greer added that if the university has learned anything in this pandemic is to be flexible and having contingency plans.

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