After Southern transitioned to distance learning and asked students to return home due to COVID-19 concerns, the Administration started working to refund students for any unused meal plans and prorated housing fees. The compensation amounts to about $2.1 million in reduced revenue for the university, and other financial impacts are expected.
According to Financial Administration Vice President Tom Verrill, all refunds have already been reimbursed to students, with most of them being applied to their student accounts before the end of March. The only exception is students who were allowed to stay on campus due to academic hardships or inability to return home.
In addition, Verrill says the Administration is reviewing the possibility of refunding certain lab fees for some classes on a case-by-case basis. Executive Director of Budgeting and Financial Analysis Doug Frood estimates that about $125,000 could be returned to students, though the exact number has not been computed yet.
“We are trying to evaluate by class,” Frood said. “But it is difficult to determine because there are still things that were purchased and may have already been used. And so, those [fees] would not be refunded. But, if there were aspects of the lab fees for services or for activities that are not going to be able to take place, then those lab portions of the lab fees are refunded.”
To alleviate the net impact, Southern has discontinued all personnel travel, frozen the hiring of new individuals and halted non-funded capital spending. According to Frood, the University has saved about $350,000 in student labor and expects to save about $100,000 in utilities for the months of March, April and May.
Currently Southern has not made any cuts to faculty and staff. Faculty members have already received contracts for the 2020-21 academic year, and the university has committed to keeping all personnel on payroll until May 31. At that point, Administration will reevaluate the situation.
Though most departments were asked to reduce their expenses, Verrill said no cuts have been made to student recruitment efforts.
Verrill predicts that the greatest financial impact on the university will depend on the number of students who enroll next semester. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 16 percent of high school seniors who expected to attend a four-year college full-time before the outbreak of COVID-19 are now considering a different route. This includes taking a gap year, working full-time or enrolling only part-time.
Before the university closed down, there were almost 200 university tours scheduled for March and April. All in-person campus-tours have been cancelled since then, but enrollment is still offering virtual tours. According to Director of Admissions Rick Anderson, these tours include a customized interaction with students, admissions staff and academic faculty.
Verrill also worries that there will be a decreasing number of returning students due to the financial situation some families may be going through. NPR reports that more than 26 million Americans have lost their jobs since March.
“I think in the long-term, the biggest unknown [financial] impact this will have on the university is families making decisions about college,” Verrill said. “Whether they will choose more local options or community colleges…or whether they will see the value of an on-campus Christian private college experience. At this point, it’s hard to tell.”
Verrill said institutional scholarships, which make up about 32 percent of the tuition budget, will not be affected next school year.
“If anything, I see us finding ways to provide additional funds for those who need it,” Verrill said. “I think there will be a change [to scholarships], but I don’t see there being a reduction.”
Last month, the United States Senate passed a $2 trillion coronavirus response bill called CARES Act. The bill is meant to help businesses keep afloat by providing an economic hardships relief. Of that money, about $14 billion is being allotted to colleges and universities across the country. According to the U.S Department of Education, Southern should be allotted a bit over $2.4 million. The bill says that half of this money has to be used to support students through Emergency Financial Aid Grants going to students.
In addition, an email from President David Smith last week said that, besides the government aid, Southern has set up a COVID-19 Student Relief Fund for students who are experiencing financial hardship. The fund is supported by alumni and donors.
According to the email, for the application process, students will have to provide documentation showing how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nursing freshman Dwayne Tambingon is not sure he will return to Southern next school year. Because of COVID-19, his father is currently out of a job; And as an international student, Tambingon cannot work outside of campus.
“My mom is currently the only person in our family who is receiving money from her workplace,” Tambingon said. “[We] still have payments that are due for tuition, so we are struggling as a family.”
Students who have experienced significant financial disruptions, such as from a parent’s loss of a job or significant bills from hospitalization of a parent that are not covered by insurance, should contact the Student Finance office at firstname.lastname@example.org.