Where do you find the money to offset a pandemic?
That’s the million-dollar question Shippensburg University is faced with as it reels from the hits the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has delivered to its metaphorical abdomen: Students.
Total losses look to be around $10-12 million, however that is an early estimate during a very fluid situation, according to Scott Barton, the university’s vice president of administration and finance.
Barton said the SU Budget and Planning Committee, the group responsible for balancing the university’s budget, worked tirelessly over the 2019-20 year to eliminate a $6 million deficit. Committee members managed to recover $5.2 million; however, just as they were approaching a budgetary breakeven point, the coronavirus spread across America.
Earlier this semester, the university offered prorated refunds which placed the university $8 million in debt. It offered 50% returns on housing, student union, recreation and activity fees. Additionally, the university refunded 50% of all meal swipes. If students used a block meal plan, the university refunded all unused meals. The university also refunded students for all unused flex dollars.
Below is a breakdown of how much the refunds cost the university:
- Activity Fee: $614,452
- Student Rec Fee: $446,393
- Student Union Fee: $709,088
- Meal Plans & Flex: $2,817,690
- Housing: $3,459,603
- Total: $8,047,226
SU is not alone in this fight, however. The federal CARES Act granted $14 billion to higher education; $5.4 million is going to SU. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, $2.7 million is the minimum allocation to be awarded for emergency financial-aid grants to students. Barton said it was premature to discuss how any of this money would be used.
Barton said without the work of the budget and planning committee throughout the past year, the task of approaching the new deficit would be near-impossible.
“We worked really hard to position the university in a good way moving forward,” Barton said.
Now, it seems the committee will have more work to do. Barton said the committee is creating a post-pandemic plan for the long-term financial sustainability of the institution.
Barton also emphasized the fact that these are fluid numbers in a constantly changing landscape.
There is a lot of speculation about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect enrollment, according to Kim Garris, SU vice president of external affairs. However, she said applications “remain strong” despite the pandemic.
Garris did not comment on whether or not the university planned to move classes online for the fall 2020 semester. However, she did say every potential plan is being discussed and considered to prepare for any scenario.