By Sean Callahan
Saint Vincent College’s 2019-2020 fiscal year is unique in that its final four months—March, April, May, and June—saw the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Meanwhile, the Forward Always Forward Campaign had just raised the college’s endowment from $78.4 million in 2013, to over $113 million in 2020. But four months of empty dining spaces, residence halls and classrooms calls the health of SVC’s finances into question.
Dr. Robert DePasquale, professor of business administration, helped interpret the 2019-2020 President’s Report using his decades of experience with accounting.
The Review attempted to contact Richard Williams, vice president of finance and administration, for comment on this story, but did not receive an immediate response.
DePasquale clarified commonly used terms in the report, such as “revenue,” (money the college takes in), “expenditures,” (money the college spends), and “liabilities,” (debts that have yet to be paid back). He also addressed a 6 percent decrease in auxiliary enterprises, one of the most notable difference from previous years in this year’s President’s Report.
“Auxiliary enterprises are things not directly related to educating students. We have the Rogers Center, where meetings and seminars are rented out by other people. We also have retreats and the Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp in the summer as well,” DePasquale explained.
DePasquale said that the decrease should not come as a surprise, since many spring events were canceled because of the pandemic. He noted that auxiliary enterprises are expected to decrease in the next fiscal year as well.
The financials section of the President’s Report also listed a reduction in enrollment from 1,867 students during the 2018-2019 accounting cycle, to 1,739 students in 2019-2020.
“Some students took a gap year, and some didn’t want to come back because they were afraid instruction would be remote learning,” DePasquale said. “So enrollment did drop a little this year. That’s tuition you’re not getting.”
Additionally, a bar graph illustrated that student financial aid had skyrocketed from $1,528,822 in the period of 2018-2019 to $2,080,141 in the period of 2019-2020. The Statement of Activities also revealed that $33 million had been provided in scholarships.
“If you divide 33 by 59 million, they’re giving out almost—on average—half of the cost of the tuition here, in scholarships. We call that the discount rate in college tuition,” DePasquale explained.
Another notable financial change included a decrease of almost $3 million in the endowment market value, something which had not occurred since the 2015-2016 fiscal year, as the report illustrates.
DePasquale said the decrease in value of less than 3 percent did not surprise him. He explained that, regardless of the pandemic, there is good and bad news for SVC’s endowment.
“They say your endowment ought to be about five times your annual budget. Ours is around 45 million dollars. Our endowment is currently at 110.8 million. It should be at about 200 million. We’re at about half that.”
While DePasquale maintained that SVC’s endowment would be more ideal at double its current amount, he felt it was in a better position than other small college endowments, considering the economic big picture in March of 2020.
“It’s important to remember that these financial statements are snapshots taken on June 30. And the endowment is invested in stocks and bonds,” DePasquale said. “Due to the pandemic, the stock market got hit pretty good in the spring.”
According to the S&P 500 index—a measurement of America’s 500 largest companies’ collective stock performance—market performance on June 30, 2020, was surprisingly close to that of June 30, 2019, measured at roughly 30.0. However, S&P’s peak stock market performance was previously measured at 33.16, on Feb. 14, 2020. It then experienced a steep drop to 23.92 on March 20, 2020, due to the pandemic. This shows that at the time of June 30, 2020 (the end of SVC’s 2019-2020 fiscal year), the stock market was still recovering.
For Saint Vincent specifically, DePasquale emphasized that both expenses and revenue would have dropped.
“We closed down about a week after spring break, so that was almost exactly half a semester’s worth. One-fourth of the room and board cost would’ve been refunded or credited,” he said.
DePasquale also mentioned a sizable loss of revenue from student dining, room and board, and building upkeep.
“We didn’t feed anybody. And a lot of the building expenses, from the college’s perspective, continued. You still have to heat them. You’re not going to let the pipes freeze,” DePasquale said. “The building insurance and routine maintenance was still the same, like lot of the other expenses.”
With slight decreases in the endowment and student enrollment in mind, DePasquale looked ahead to the future.
“The question’s going to be, how quickly does this all recover? Maybe there will be more students, because the ones who took a gap year will return. But only time will tell.”