As Auburn University approaches four months since its initial move to remote instruction because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the institution has reported $15 million in losses between the transition online in the spring and its recent reopening for summer.
The Plainsman recently spoke to Kelli Shomaker, Auburn's chief financial officer, for a more in-depth look into the University’s finances before students, faculty and staff return for the fall.
Q: How much money was refunded back to students in total for the spring and first summer semester?
Shomaker: The University refunded approxinmately $13 million for room and board as well as study abroad fees for the spring semester. There have been no student refunds for the first summer semester.
Q: What does the University’s net financial impact from the pandemic up to this point look like?
The net estimated impact to Auburn University through the first summer semester is around $15 million.
Q: How is the University planning to use its CARES Act grant?
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Auburn University received $15.6 million [in federal relief]. Half was returned to students in the form of financial aid. The other half was used to offset refunds of spring housing and dining.
Q: Has funding from the Alabama state government remained steady since campus closed in March?
We have experienced no changes in funding from the state of Alabama. We will receive an increase in state funds when the new state budget begins on Oct. 1 of approximately 3.7%.
Q: Was the decision to reopen campus on June 29 made from a financial standpoint?
No. The decision was made based on two of President Gogue’s guiding principles for the University’s conduct during the pandemic. First, protect the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff and, second, continue the Auburn mission of instruction, research and outreach.
Q: Is the decision to waive the student services fee for summer standing for those returning to campus during the second semester? If so, what has the financial loss from this waived fee looked like?
Yes. Approximately $5 million.
Q: Has the University saved money anywhere as a result of remote operations (such as in utility costs with few campus buildings in use during closure)?
We are just beginning to tally the savings of remote operations. I anticipate some utility and travel savings. Though we began remote instruction, many of our faculty were still delivering instruction from their offices, and many staff were working from offices on campus to begin to prepare for a return.
How does the University aim to recoup lost finances during the 2020-21 academic year?
Given that we can’t quantify if, or any amount, of losses for 2020-21, it is too early to provide a response. At the present time our enrollment numbers look very good for meeting our financial targets. The University has always been cautious about how it budgets University funds, and the conservative allocation practices that we follow allowed us to weather the storm of the 2008 recession by reallocating funds to areas of the greatest need or reducing budgets where there are opportunities to do so. Some of those same practices will allow us to limit the impact of any financial losses related to COVID-19.
Will students see price increases anywhere next year?
There are no price increases being planned due to COVID-19. Any increases in prices were previously approved by the operating entities or units.
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