Our Spring semester is in full swing, and I am pleased to be able to share the news that our enhanced COVID-19 testing regimen is working well and that we are offering more in-person instruction than in the fall.
We have conducted more than 15,000 tests a week of students and employees for each of the past three weeks and the positivity rate is approximately 2 percent. Thanks to our partners at Prisma Health and the Medical University of South Carolina approximately 500 nursing students, campus health care personnel, researchers and testing lab personnel already have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and we hope to expand vaccination options further in the near future.
Clemson Extension Steps Up
As I have said previously, our approach to the pandemic truly has been a team effort with staff and faculty from across all Clemson locations contributing to provide value and service to our students and the state during this challenging period. We often focus on the great work being done at our main campus, but Clemson’s land-grant service mission also is being carried out in every county across the state through the work of Clemson Extension.
I may be a bit biased, but I truly believe Clemson’s Extension operations, which provide vital resources, information and support to farmers, students and residents around the state, are second to none. Here are just a few examples of their recent efforts:
• Our 4-H @Home program provided daily lessons to more than 2,500 students via e-mail during the spring and summer of 2020.
• Clemson Extension has created virtual learning resources to help the nearly 160 agriculture teachers across the state with lesson planning for their students.
• Our Agribusiness agents hosted more than 75 virtual training and information sessions, attended by 4,400 individuals, in 2020.
• Our very popular Home and Garden Information Center has seen a doubling of traffic to its web site and agents responded to nearly 8,600 emails in 2020, twice the number from the previous year.
Our Extension operations are the face of Clemson in much of the state, and I am incredibly proud of the way our Extension leadership and staff members have stepped up during the pandemic.
Value of a Clemson Education Remains Strong
The pandemic has undeniably hit higher education hard over the past year. We’ve all been challenged to operate in a much different way amid a time of great uncertainty, and many universities – including Clemson – have experienced financial challenges due to COVID-19.
Unlike many universities, which have seen significant drop in enrollments, Clemson remains an attractive option for students. Our fall enrollment was up 2.3 percent from the fall of 2019. Perhaps more importantly, the retention rate – those students who return for their sophomore year – was nearly 94 percent in the fall, a record for Clemson.
This figure, which is among the highest for a public university in the country, represents those students whose freshmen year ended in in the middle of the first wave of the pandemic. The fact that those students would choose to return in the fall in record numbers is a testament to both the quality of students we are attracting and the quality of educational experience we are providing.
We’re also excited about the prospects for our incoming class this fall. So far, we have received more than 43,000 applications for admissions, well ahead of recent years and we’re experiencing greater diversity in our applicant pool.
A Reminder to Live Clemson’s Values
We are fortunate at Clemson to have a unique culture where ideals such as honesty, respect and integrity aren’t merely words, but rather represent a way of life. As we enter a new year in which we face many of the same challenges we battled in 2020, I think it’s instructive to remember that the true strength of the Clemson Family lies in its willingness to come to together to support one another – and to treat everyone with respect and dignity.
As I have said before, family members – especially in a family as large and diverse as ours – aren’t always going to agree. And that’s OK. What’s critically important, however, is that we discuss our differences in a civil manner and with open minds and open hearts.
I am extremely optimistic about what 2021 holds for our great university. Thanks to everyone for your continued support of our vital mission.