The coronavirus pandemic has cost tens of millions of dollars to central New York colleges and universities, forcing schools to draw on reserves and cut costs while avoiding layoffs or employee leaves.
Schools have agreed to reimburse millions of dollars in room, board, and fees to students who were told to stay away from campus during the pandemic, highlighting colleges whose endowments plummeted with the stock market.
Syracuse University, Le Moyne College, Onondaga Community College and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry of Syracuse have each confirmed that they reimburse between one-third and one-half of the cost of room and board for students. the spring semester.
Prorated refunds will cost Moyne College approximately $ 5 million from the college’s reserve fund, said Le Moyne President Linda LeMura.
At the same time, Le Moyne’s endowment value went from a high of $ 215 million at the start of this year to a low of $ 160 million when the stock market canceled nearly four years of gains on last month.
The private Jesuit college will lose about 6% of its annual revenue with repayments, a setback that the college says it can manage for the time being.
“The college has good cash,” said LeMura in an interview. “We are very conservative with the way we budget, and we can absorb this particular blow. But the question is how long will it last? “
While the college moved its online courses for the rest of the semester, it kept its 700 employees (including 177 full-time faculty) on the payroll without layoffs or leaves.
“We want to keep people whole for as long as possible,” said LeMura.
At the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Chairman of the Board, Matthew Marko, warned in a letter to the campus community that the college could be forced to borrow money from State University of New York ” in the next month “to allow the continuation of operations.
“With the very real and potentially long downturn in our economy, the college’s finances will become even more difficult,” wrote Marko, referring to the economic stress caused by the pandemic virus.
ESF interim president David Amberg told Syracuse.com | The post-standard that the college’s financial situation is not as grim as it seems.
He said the school has slowly run out of supplies over the past 10 years after funding for the SUNY system has been cut by about $ 5.3 million a year.
If necessary, said Amberg, the school can borrow part of the $ 900 million that SUNY keeps in reserve for use by its member campuses.
In the meantime, the college is considering initiatives to increase revenues and reduce costs as it prepares to reimburse approximately $ 1 million in dormitory fees to students, said Amberg. Reimbursements will represent approximately one third of the accommodation costs for the semester.
He said the college will consider higher fees, an increase in tuition fees for international students, an increase in student enrollment and the possibility for other schools to pay for access to some of the 25,000 acres of properties. college forestry in the Adirondacks which are used for research purposes.
“The good news for us is that we have a product that this generation really wants,” said Amberg, noting that college enrollment has increased in each of the past two years.
He said the college wanted to avoid layoffs, layoffs and downsizing, or any reduction that could affect its primary mission.
“We want to make sure we maintain our academic standards because, if we don’t, we will find ourselves in a death spiral,” said Amberg. “We are part of a huge system with huge resources. We will weather this storm.”
To help colleges and universities cope with their financial losses, Congress agreed to provide $ 9.5 billion for higher education assistance in the $ 2.2 trillion relief bill. on coronaviruses approved at the end of March.
The US Department of Education said on Thursday that it would immediately distribute $ 6.2 billion in aid from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
Total includes more than $ 50 million for central New York colleges and universities, analysis from Syracuse.com | The post-standard.
Syracuse University will receive the most aid in the metropolitan area of Syracuse, almost $ 10 million, followed by SUNY Oswego, who will receive more than $ 7.2 million in federal grants.
The aid amount for each school is based on a formula that includes student registrations and the number of students receiving financial aid through federal Pell grants. About half of the federal money must go to students as emergency financial assistance.
Officials at Syracuse University have refused to release specific details about the impact of the pandemic on its finances. SU told its students that it will provide pro-rated reimbursements for dorms, meal plans and some parking fees until March 23, when the university switched to online courses.
As a private school with an endowment valued at $ 1.35 billion as of September 30, SU is better equipped to handle financial stress than many small public schools and community colleges.
SU and Le Moyne College limit annual withdrawals from their endowments to a maximum of 4.5% of the total to help pay for operating costs. This means that less money is available for operating costs if an endowment decreases in value.
At Onondaga Community College, the public school operates with the help of a much smaller endowment of $ 14 million overseen by a foundation that supports scholarships and academic programs.
OCC President Casey Crabill said college faces challenge to compensate for about $ 1.7 million in revenue he lost this semester from empty dorms run by his non-profit housing company lucrative. Students were advised not to return to campus after the spring break because the courses were online. The college said it would reimburse about half of the semester’s accommodation costs to students.
The school also lost approximately $ 800,000 as a result of events that had to be canceled at its SRC arena on campus.
The federal emergency bill passed by Congress will provide the OCC with a first round of assistance totaling $ 5.2 million, of which $ 2.6 million is to be paid to students as emergency financial assistance.
Crabill said his top priority was to distribute aid to students.
“About 80% of our students work while they are in school, and many of them work almost full time,” said Crabill. “So we have a lot of students whose economic conditions have collapsed since the entry into force of social distancing.”
Some of the 10,500 OCC students enrolled in the spring semester initially found it difficult to switch to online courses because they did not have a computer or access to the Internet, Crabill said.
To help alleviate the problem, the college allowed students to borrow 525 new Chromebooks through its bookstore at no cost.
“Access to technology and access to a signal were huge problems,” said Crabill.
To help students access the Internet free of charge, the college has authorized students to use a WiFi signal in its car parks.
“Our students collected every nickel to get here in the first place,” said Crabill. “And when things fall apart like that, it’s remarkable how quickly their safety net falls apart.”
Federal Coronavirus Relief Aid for Central New York Colleges
Here is the amount of federal aid that colleges and universities in central New York will receive in the first round of grants from a congressional approved coronavirus relief fund.
Cornell University: $ 12,800,980
Syracuse University: $ 9,920,122
SUNY Oswego: $ 7,244,716
SUNY Cortland: $ 6,245,138
Onondaga Community College: $ 5,222,555
Ithaca College: $ 4,583,253
Le Moyne College: $ 2,709,704
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry: $ 1,681,739
Colgate University: $ 1,636,002
Cayuga Community College: $ 1,497,604
Hamilton College: $ 1,189,507
Cazenovia College: $ 1,008,776
Wells college: $ 623,035
SUNY Upstate Medical University: $ 519,826
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