ETSU to return to normal this fall; Board of Trustees approves bonus, wage increase for hourly workers and adjunct professors

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — East Tennessee State University’s Board of Trustees met in a special called meeting Tuesday where they heard an update on where the university stands ahead of the fall semester, especially with enrollment numbers not yet finalized and residence halls at capacity.

“I anticipate that we’ll be back at full capacity both in terms of events, operations, and the day-to-day management of the institution,” said President Brian Noland. “The residence halls are moving back to capacity so we anticipate that enrollment will be up we are continuing to hold constant in the planned parameter in the event that something changes.”

With vaccines widely available and low COVID-19 numbers, the university expects this fall to look like previous semesters before the pandemic.

“In 2017, we had right at 1,865 freshmen projected at this point in time. In ’19, it was 1,654. If everything holds we’re at 1,855,” Noland told the board. “Enrollment is up almost 200 at the freshman level over where we were in ’19.”

The university slimmed up the budget anticipating a 100 student enrollment decrease this fall, however, numbers are showing an increase.

“Our data indicate that our freshman class will be larger than the year prior. The freshman class will look much like the class in 17. Our transfer class will be large, if not the largest in recent history,” Noland said.

Housing applications are up from year’s past as well.

In 2017, the university saw 1,327 applicants. Numbers dipped to 1,269 in 2019 and have jumped back up to 1,370 in 2021.

Those numbers are considered to be a baseline since the university has noticed a delay in when students are enrolling.

“We are still seeing students come through on campus tours who’ve yet to make their decisions on where to enroll in the fall. These are students who graduated in May,” explained Noland. “More than 25% of the students who are still touring campus, trying to make the decision are students who just graduated a few weeks ago.”

Noland says the university is taking aggressive steps to ensure that COVID-19 will not be an issue this fall, such as additional cleaning, wastewater testing and even keeping one residence hall reserved for COVID space if needed.

And for about 2,260 ETSU full-time employees, a one-time $500 bonus is on the way, and that’s just part of a broader salary plan.

“Making the $500 payment to every eligible employee provides those at the lower end of our pay scales with the highest percentage dollar payout,” said university Chief Financial Officer B.J. King.

The board also voted to increase the campus minimum wage from $9.25 to $10.15. This goes into effect on July 1. The increase will impact around 100 workers on campus and hopefully will attract people to come work at the university.

“In custodial alone, we have 30 vacancies and in the technical areas, those vacancies are also pronounced in the skilled trades. We put in place an early retirement program in the fall…many individuals took advantage of that, particularly in the skilled trades,” said Noland.

Ahead of the vote, King explained that this recommendation was in light of national discussions around minimum wage. Dr. Noland says minimum wages could go up again this fall.

Also getting a pay raise – adjunct faculty.

“It’s part of a plan that we developed about a year and a half ago to increase those pay scales for our adjunct faculty. This action takes it to $800 as a minimum for the fall,” Noland said. “The colleges will continue to make progress toward the college-specific goals of a minimum compensation rate of $1000 per credit hour.”

Last year, faculty and staff sent an open letter to President Noland specifically asking him to preserve the jobs of lower-paid faculty and to commit to no adjunct faculty lay-offs.

“As we look toward the fall, we anticipate an across-the-board salary increase somewhere north of 3-3.5% which would be the largest salary increase for our faculty and staff in decades,” Noland said.

More money will also be coming in from the CARES Act, the university has already received two rounds, mostly going to students on a needs-based criteria.

“Essentially we cut our budget in half. We depleted our reserve funds and in many respects marginalized the budget for housing,” said Noland. “So, the federal government allows us to use those funds to rebuild those reserve accounts.”

Noland says the money will go directly towards the success of students.

“Half of the funding for CARES III which is right at $15 million dollars and change will be provided directly to students who enroll at the institution,” he said. “Then we will target the other half of those funds towards health, safety and the items that are prescribed for us by the federal government.”

During the meeting, the board also elected a new chair and vice-chair. Scott Niswonger has served on the board since it was formed. The trustees accepted his recommendation for Dr. Linda Latimer to become the new chair. Steve DeCarlo is now the vice-chair.

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