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UW-La Crosse ranked among top universities, campus still battles COVID-19

Kaitlyn Riley

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A U.S. News & World Report listing of America’s best colleges placed the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse as the state’s top-ranked public university among its peers.

It marks the 20th consecutive year UW-L has remained the state’s top-ranked comprehensive campus in the UW System, according to UW-La Crosse. The magazine also puts UW-L in a tie with the University of Nebraska-Kearney for the No. 6 public university.

“We were delighted to see the report,” UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow said. “That is very special for us, and it shows what a great job our faculty, staff, and students do to make this an outstanding university.”

Gow added that there are numerous factors that determine the rankings, but he thought the university’s retention rate of first- to second-year students, four-year graduation rate and student-to-faculty ratio are key components that make UW-L an ideal college.

Currently, campus life is much different for students, who are under a two-week shelter in place because of COVID-19. Gow said the university saw an unusually large number of positive tests come in last week and decided to address the issue.

“We worked with the UW System, and they monitor our situation continuously and give us resources and advice,” Gow said. “The best thing to do was to issue the shelter in place director for our students and faculty.”

He was still hopeful testing numbers will improve so they can resume in-person classes this semester.

After the directive was announced, many students packed up and left their dorms before it officially went into effect Sunday. The health department requested that students stay in place, but Gow said they wanted to give students the opportunity to decide what made them feel most comfortable.

“If we are going to slow the spread of the virus, we all need to do our part,” Gow said. “That involves wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. We all need to do that, students and staff administrators like me. I think many people feel like this will not impact them, but it has the potential to, so we need to be very careful.”

While many of those students plan to return once the shelter in place is lifted, some did decide to cancel their housing contracts. Those open rooms will allow for more quarantine space if necessary on campus, and students will be reimbursed on a pro-rated basis.

Most campus facilities such as the rec center, fieldhouse, and Student Union have been closed since the pandemic first hit the area, leading some students to question why they should have to pay segregated fees in their tuition.

“I’m really just paying for the lights to be on the doors to be locked,” UW-La Crosse graduate student Hannah Meyer said.

Chancellor Gow explained the segregated fees are not user fees, but act more like a tax levied on students because the fees are used to build big facilities such as the union.

“We spread that fee out over 30 years to pay back the bonds that we used to finance this facility,” Gow said. “Fees can be lower if you spread them over a 30-year period so we don’t have one group of students paying a really high fee to get a building created. Even if the union is closed, we still have to pay for that service on a big project.”

UW-La Crosse is sharing daily updates about the Coronavirus on its online dashboard.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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