COVID-19 in Fall 2020: The finances, enrollment, and stress of it all

Taryn Zard, Staff writer

President Roy Heynderickx has stated that Saint Martin’s University has absorbed a financial hit of roughly $3.5 million from the impact of COVID-19. This impact has forced the University to limit travel, events, and cut back on other budget-line items by $1 million, as well as decreasing and altering benefit packages, salaries, freezing pay raises and vacant positions, reducing on-campus student wages along with the number of people filling those positions by $1.5 million. Still, when all of this is compared to other universities nationwide, Saint Martin’s is surviving the financial hardships of the pandemic fairly well. 

According to Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Finance, Sarah Saavedra, in the summer, Saint Martin’s was closely following the U.S. Higher Education Revenue predictions. Various sources such as Fitch ratings gave assumptions that COVID-19 would result in financial declines of at least 5-10 percent, and likely even higher reductions. Overall, the University hit four percent in revenue declines, so Saint Martin’s did not have to do any actual faculty pay cuts or further reductions.

In addition to not receiving as much of a setback as predicted, the school has gotten a lot of financial support from various sources. Saint Martin’s graciously received a one-time scholarship from the Abbey, called the Abbot Neal Roth scholarship, which has helped a number of students with their own financial setbacks. According to Heynderickx, Saint Martin’s received approximately $1.25 million through the federal government’s Cares Act at the beginning of the summer. 

Half of that amount was distributed directly to students that expressed a financial need related to the pandemic. The other half was made available to the University and was applied to room and board refunds that were issued during the spring semester of 2020. Heynderickx and other faculty members considered a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loan, administered through the Small Business Administration, but unfortunately, the school did not qualify as the campus has more than the maximum 500 employees allowed. 

Washington has not had any state stimulus aid available, and no other federal stimulus funding act has been approved by Congress. However, there has been a lot of talk devoted to what the next round of stimulus funding should look like by the House, Senate, and White House, and where those funds should be poured into. All three federal departments have expressed some interest in helping out higher education institutions, but have not yet made a funding decision. 

The University has continued to receive federal student aid via the Title IV funding, and other federal aid that the school has gotten in the past year. Similarly, students eligible for the Washington College Grant will continue to receive student aid as in past years. In the past, Saint Martin’s has gotten a lot of institutional funding from various fundraisers and events that have had to be restricted with social distancing guidelines. Money received from fundraisers and certain scholarships are directly deposited into the endowment scholarship fund. 

Events like the annual Gala are very important. Although the money does not bear any of the school’s operational funding needs, the money raised plays a vital role in how students are better supported in college. The 2020 Gala was changed to a virtual celebration of the University’s 125th Anniversary. The event was held Saturday, November 7th and the evening was a smashing success by all accounts. With a record number of patrons than previous years, the event raised an incredible $1.4 million. 

The amount contributed to students at Saint Martin’s University is estimated to grow over the next couple of weeks as more gifts are received. Students should be rest assured that the Gala scholarships they receive will be there in the future thanks to the unbelievable generosity of so many people in the community who value the students and education received at Saint Martin’s.

If the upcoming spring semester is like the fall, the costs will be similar. Although most expenditures related to COVID-19 occurred over the past summer and fall, other costs like athletic team travel will be higher, due to the change in this year’s fall sports moving to spring. 

Revenue streams have been impacted by COVID-19, with the most significant impact stemming from room and board earnings, which have gone down since many students have opted for one or both of the University’s online and hybrid methods of study. Some students that would typically reside on campus have chosen not to this year and are doing online studies.

Saavedra made sure to elaborate on the revenue forecast, stating, “one of the most important concepts to try and keep in mind is to make sure that the population that is used for the budget is complete and isn’t overstating or projecting too much in revenues or understating anything in the population.”

Enrollment is just one aspect of the revenue mix in a budget forecast, which says what the numbers will look like if spring replicates fall. The questions that have been asked have focused primarily on undergraduate enrollment. The University also has revenues that come from the Marcus Pavilion rentals, where outside groups can rent out the space. This was not allowed this year due to the Pandemic and restrictions associated with large groups being allowed to meet. 

Even though the campus has only used four percent of the anticipated five to ten percent revenue, earnings are still down. Opening the University back up has been costly due to COVID-19 and the administration has incurred additional expenses such as new technology and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). According to President Heynderickx, to date, Saint Martin’s has spent approximately $700 thousand on COVID-19 related expenditures. Such costs, of course, were unexpected, and not something the University had saved for.

Enrollment for this year at Saint Martin’s is exactly the same number as last year for undergraduate and graduate students combined. When asked about the numbers being the same, Heynderickx commented that, “we found it difficult to believe our enrollment ended up this fall identical in headcount compared to last year.” 

That being said, Saint Martin’s had previously anticipated a larger incoming class of new students due to the introduction of a four-year bachelors nursing program, Ph.D. program in leadership, and other program additions that were expected to attract a much larger class size. 

Furthermore, the class size of first-year students last fall was the largest class on record, and Saint Martin’s experienced strong retention, which helped off-set a smaller first-year class this year. Normally, Saint Martin’s has a lot of international students on-campus that add to the overall numbers, and that headcount was down as well this year. 

New Programs at Saint Martin’s University
Program NameFall 2019Fall 2020 
PhD Students022100%
MSSA Students425326.2%
Nursing Students57115101.8%
Pre-Nursing152353.3%
Exercise Science375754.1%
Total Students from new Programs151270 (17% of total students) 

Comparison chart of last year to this year’s enrollments in new programs

17 percent of the enrollment this year (270 students) are from the new programs at the University. When a new program is started, such as Nursing, there are operational costs associated with that program to hire new faculty, purchase lab supplies, hire a Dean, and other program staff. The University’s existing programs and majors saw declines this year, while the newest programs saw the greatest demand, and helped to make up for some of the losses in other areas. For example, with the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) campus, there were 87 students this year, compared to the 111 last year. In addition, Saint Martin’s has 45 international students enrolled in studies this year, in comparison to the 108 enrolled last year. 

The students attending college have required more financial assistance this year and the overall mix of students—new, continuing, undergraduate, graduate, and international—is different from last year. Additionally, the program costs vary depending upon the type of student and choice of program. For instance, programs with labs cost more to the University, while other programs have lower costs.

When talking with Irina Gendelman, Ph.D., she touched on how the faculty are working very hard to make sure that their classes are flexible, and that students have options as well as support for what they need. The Saints Care program has been a great resource in helping reach out and support students who are struggling. Faculty are worried not only about how to manage the new way of teaching, but they are also concerned about students’ wellbeing. 

“We [professors] understand that so much of the college experience is the social life and community,” Gendelman said. “We want students to thrive and get as much out of college as possible.” 

Faculty themselves are feeling exhausted, especially those who are caretakers for kids and family at home. It has been difficult to find a balance, and professors have constantly had to be super creative in the way they teach. That being said, they are also being pulled in so many directions with being at home, navigating new systems, and supporting and educating their own families.

Some professors are teaching asynchronously online to accommodate student needs. Professors are using multiple remote teaching methods to reach all enrolled students, and utilizing platforms like Zoom, Moodle and Microsoft Teams to communicate information. 

Faculty have had conversations with President Heynderickx and Provost Kate Boyle about tenure and pay. Faculty tenure has not changed, and faculty promotions for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic year have and will be honored. It has, however, been suggested that faculty not yet tenured be given the option to delay or defer tenure application by one year due to the extreme demands placed on faculty this year. Although tenure has not stopped, there has been a freeze in salary.

The faculty have all been extremely understanding that such actions need to be made to protect their future jobs and the community of Saint Martin’s. Along with the pause in salaries, the University has stopped paying the monthly retirement contributions, general spending for goods and services has frozen, faculty development funds have been cut in half, and new faculty hiring is mostly frozen. Spring Semester is expected to be similar to how the fall term has been with a mix of options, until COVID-19 is under control. 

Saint Martin’s has to protect vulnerable students and faculty. Safety comes above all else. Gendelman said that although faculty are eager to come back to campus, there will likely be more online classes to be offered as well. Heynderickx added that “Saint Martin’s has weathered this pandemic well, thanks to the flexibility of the students, faculty and staff.” 

The virus has caused considerable stress for everyone, and a return to normalcy would be welcome. In the meantime, Saint Martin’s will strive to provide the same quality experience that has always been given to students. Everybody is still learning how to best navigate everything, and figure out how to learn, adapt, and move forward. 

Gendelman addresses the exhaustion felt by many, stating, “there are no quick fixes, [and] everything requires time. We’ve done so many new and creative things this year. People are constantly willing to think outside the box, which is just what we need.”

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