By Jonathan Meilaender
Students aren’t the only ones suffering the financial impact of the pandemic. Colleges are, too, in part because of refunds on room and board. But small colleges, with lower endowments, may be especially hard-hit, not the least due to enrollment – a key source of revenue.
Survey statistics hint at an impending drop in enrollment. Inside Higher Ed, a leading digital news source for higher education, recently published a round-up of surveys of incoming freshmen. According to a survey conducted by higher education marketing firm Carnegie Dartlett, only 23% are highly confident they can pay for college, down from 32% before the Coronavirus. Two-thirds of the students thought a May 1st deadline to commit was unreasonable. A survey by Maguire associates found that 29% of high school seniors have given serious thought to deferring college for a year. And a survey by a company in the Seattle area found that 69% of incoming freshmen think the pandemic will affect their financial situation with respect to college.
“The College was forced to make the difficult decision to make reductions across campus due to the significant and unforeseen financial impact of the pandemic. [...] The hope is to bring some positions back, but a timeline for that has yet to be determined.” - Mike Hustava
Saint Vincent is well aware of these challenges, making several changes to help incoming freshmen.
“Our Admission department is working diligently to address those concerns with our accepted and deposited students, as well as prospective students, through ongoing communication and by assisting them in any way possible,” Mike Hustava, senior director of Marketing and Communications, said.
For example, the college is waiving the requirement of standardized test scores for prospective students applying for fall 2020 admission. Departments are also holding virtual info sessions, and there’s a virtual Get Acquainted Day.
But despite these measures, SVC has already made tough economic decisions, like cutting a number of staff positions.
“The College was forced to make the difficult decision to make reductions across campus due to the significant and unforeseen financial impact of the pandemic,” Hustava said. “The hope is to bring some positions back, but a timeline for that has yet to be determined.”
Despite these financial complications, the Boyer School has donated hundreds of sets of PPE to the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety and Conemaugh Home Health. The donation included 500 boxes of disposable gloves and 500 face masks, according to an SVC press release.
In addition, Saint Vincent, like many colleges, will offer refunds to students proportioned to the amount of time students spent in their dorms.
“Students will receive a prorated room and board credit based on the percentage of the semester that was completed when a student departed campus,” explained Hustava.
“Departing campus,” he explained, merely means that a student left. Students who were forced to leave belongings in their dorms will still be eligible for refunds. Those who left prior to March 15 will receive a 45% room and board refund, Hustava said. Those who left by March 29 will receive a 35% refund. Those who have not left will not receive a refund.
“Despite the many challenges that we have faced, both as a College and in each of our own lives, the connectedness of our community remains as powerful as ever. As students, faculty and administration work to overcome obstacles in these most unusual and unprecedented times, it will only serve to strengthen our sense of togetherness.” - Mike Hustava
The average annual room and board cost for Saint Vincent students is $11,804, according to SVC’s website, so the average for a single semester is $5,802. Thus, students who left early should receive about $2,600, while students who left later should receive about $2,000.
Those numbers are higher than they are at some other universities. According to an article in the US News and World Report, which publishes a well-known annual ranking of colleges, the University of Minnesota initially offered students $1,200 before backtracking amid threats of legal action. Class-action lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of angry students at several universities in Arizona.
It’s possibly more than some students were expecting. Jamie Sherry, a senior marketing major, hoped for at least $1,500.
“Easily $1,500,” she said. “We lost about 8 weeks including finals. So that’s about half a semester of room and board, which makes my estimate conservative.”
Since Sherry is a senior, a credit toward next year’s costs won’t do her any good. That’s why the refund will be delivered in different ways depending on students’ financial status.
“Our Admission department is working diligently to address those concerns with our accepted and deposited students, as well as prospective students, through ongoing communication and by assisting them in any way possible.” - Mike Hustava
“For current freshmen, sophomores and juniors, and non-graduating Seniors, this credit will be applied to their 2020-21 academic year account […] Graduating seniors will receive their credit amount in a refund upon graduation,” Hustava said. Students with an outstanding balance will have the credit applied to that first and then receive any remainder.
The new Coronavirus has put an end to sports, gatherings, and college as we know it. It has also put an end to one of the longest economic booms in American history. The Dow fell about 33% in a month. These devastating consequences will have a substantial impact on the college experience of thousands of young Americans, including Saint Vincent students.
However, Hustava takes heart in the resilience the SVC community has demonstrated.
“Despite the many challenges that we have faced, both as a College and in each of our own lives, the connectedness of our community remains as powerful as ever. As students, faculty and administration work to overcome obstacles in these most unusual and unprecedented times, it will only serve to strengthen our sense of togetherness,” he said.