Kansas universities take financial hit from coronavirus changes

Capitol Bureau
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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Universities across Kansas have moved their classes, faculty, and staff online, causing them to lose millions of dollars in financial revenue.

It seems one of the largest financial impacts comes from refunding students who previously lived on campus for the beginning of the school year.

“Like all of the universities in Kansas, I think we’ve taken somewhat of a financial hit with students who have left our residents halls to be home and in safer situation,” said Scott Cason, Chief Communications Officer for Fort Hays State University.

Fort Hays State University started its response to the coronavirus pandemic in China, where the university has several campuses with different partners. This helped when the pandemic traveled to the United States, Cason said.

Now, all students, faculty, and staff are working remotely and meeting virtually. However, businesses on campus are still working, according to Cason.

The university also has 60 volunteers who work with students if they reach out with problems, and ensure they are connected to whomever they need to be.

Cason said that the university has been refunding students for partial room and board, although there are some students who still remain on campus.

Due to this, the university has lost almost $2.8 million in revenue, Cason said.

The university has also created a Critical Incident Policy Group, which meets every day and examines the state and federal guidelines to ensure the university is operating safely.

Fort Hays State University is used to having a hands-on approach when it comes to recruiting incoming college students, Cason said, by wanting them to physically visit the campus. Due to the pandemic, the University has had to offer digital contact such as virtual tours.

Emporia State University has not only moved their classes online, but also services like counseling, tutoring, and financial aid offices, ESU President Allison Garrett said.

The university expects a loss of $3 million, and estimates it will continue to grow next month, Garrett said. This is due to the university refunding room and board for students, as well as continuing to pay their student workers. Additional expenses such as laptops, hot spots for faculty and students without proper internet access, and additional software licenses for people working from home are also included in the loss.

The Cares Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump last Friday, will allow aid to the university, according to Garrett.

“We’re happy about that and grateful to our legislators from the state of Kansas who helped push that through, because we believe that will provide some aid to the university,” Garrett said.

Garrett said the university has been prudent in how they spend their money, and that she believes that will help them recover during this time.

Another concern from Garrett is the return of international students in the fall, and how if this continues they will not be able to.

Pittsburg State University is focusing on pushing through the enrollment struggle that has been hitting universities in the past decade, said Scott Donaldson, director of admission for the university.

This is because there has been a decline in the number of high schoolers attending college, Donaldson said.

In three days, the university completely transformed their student recruiting process to online, Donaldson said. However, this can be difficult without the students being able to physically visit the university.

“Almost 90% of the time they tell us it’s because we step foot on the campus and it felt like home,” Donaldson said.

Now, the university has created a virtual tour for interested students, as well as Zoom calls to share about the university according to Donaldson.

“Virtual tour, virtual appointments, things like that allow me to reach more students. It allows me to throw a bigger net,” Donaldson said.

Despite having to go online, Donaldson said that now is the best time. This is because high school seniors have already decided where they are going to college, while high school juniors still have plenty of time to make that decision.

As of right now, all three universities said they will be able to overcome the financial impact these changes are creating. However, if it continues into the fall it may be a different story.

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