Enrollment figures, pandemic financial impact and tuition and fees were major points of conversation during the meetings of the Ohio University Board of Trustees this week.
The Board of Trustees met in regular session in-person — an act that hasn’t occurred since the pandemic’s beginning last year — at Walter Hall on June 17 and 18.
Enrollment at OU: preventing “melt”
Candace J. Boeninger, the university’s Vice President for Enrollment Management, provided the Board an update on projections for incoming fall semester students. The freshman class is on track to surpass Fall 2020 enrollment.
The number of freshmen enrolling at the university has steadily fallen each year since 2016’s near-record numbers, hitting in fall 2020 amid the pandemic the lowest point since the ‘90s. Boeninger noted that a flurry of students committing at the last minute turned the university's fortunes.
While Boeninger told the Board that ongoing impacts are still unclear, the vice president of enrollment management pointed to a variety of strategic initiatives that may have led to higher enrollment confirmations: increases in financial aid, diversity and inclusion messaging, extended deadlines for applications, the pivot to a test-optional pathway and more.
3,800 future students have confirmed their enrollment for the fall, Boeninger said. However, Boeninger told the Board it must still consider the concept of enrollment “melt.” Melt refers to the percentage of students who confirm enrollment with an institution, but do not follow through with attending. In the past, the average rate of melt for enrollment ranged from 3 to 4 percent. However, in Fall 2020, the university’s rate of melt was 11 percent, as the pandemic impacted campus attendance.
Boeninger projected that melt for the Fall 2021 class will rest at 4.4 percent: a stark change from last year.
Pandemic resulted in losses, but some gains come through
Vice President of Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer also updated the Board about how the university has been impacted financially by the pandemic, providing a look back at the impact the pandemic had on the institution, all while pointing to projections for OU’s fiscal future.
Previously, Shaffer presented a plan to use $65 million from the university’s reserves over the next few fiscal years in order to achieve balance to the budget. At the time of the December 2020 Board meeting, nearly $20 million of the planned $65 million had already been used, The NEWS previously reported.
The projection then was that the university would exceed the $65 million reserve use before hitting a balance, but Shaffer noted at the June 18 meeting that currently the fiscal year is projected to end in a surplus of more than $60 million, a chunk of which will go toward reimbursing university employees for lost wages that resulted from pandemic-induced furloughs.
The pandemic has been costly since it came to Ohio in March. Shaffer shared with the Board that since the pandemic’s start, the university has lost roughly $84 million in revenue, all while having additional expenses of nearly $47 million.
However, a large portion of those losses were covered by federal pandemic aid, totaling $79 million worth of funding that has already been received by OU or is expected to flow in. The school also received millions of dollars of state funding to boot, Shaffer said.
That boost in funding is paired with minimal operating expenses while the campus was shut down, such as savings that resulted from the lack of travel expenses.
But the gains created through state and federal relief have a short life: Shaffer projected the budget deficit for FY22 to be more than $31 million.
The Board ultimately approved a continuation of the FY22 budget, with a commitment that a final FY22 budget will be presented to the Board during its August meeting.
A rise in the rate for tuition and fees for the incoming class
The Board approved a resolution to raise the Athens undergraduate rate by 1.8 percent for incoming FY22 students.
This rate increase, recommended by CFO Shaffer during the June 18 meeting, will be fixed for four years for the incoming cohort of students, resulting in an annual increase of less than 0.5 percent.
Under the proposed state operating budget, the undergraduate tuition cap allows for rate increases of up to 2 percent, Shaffer explained, as well as a 1.8 percent Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase, for a total of 3.8 percent.
This rise in tuition rate follows OU being the only public institution in the state to freeze tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year, a decision made in response to the pandemic.
All undergraduate rate increases will be presented to the Board following the completion of the pending state operating budget.