Ohio University Addresses COVID-19’s Impact On Growing Money Woes

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The pandemic is making bad financial situations worse for many, including the state’s oldest college.

Ohio University’s battle for solvency was outlined in an email sent Tuesday to faculty and staff from its president, M. Duane Nellis. The 1800-word address paints a stark picture of a financial struggle that started before the pandemic and is growing because of it stating, “These are extremely difficult realities, but it is important for us all to understand the severity of what we face because it will take collaboration and open dialogue to meet the challenges of the year ahead.”

The hits just keep on coming

In March, prior to the shutdown of OU’s campuses, the administration enacted a series of measures in an attempt to close a $30 million projected budget gap. To date, projections could see that shortfall more than double.

More than $18 million in room, board, and parking fees was refunded to students who were not allowed to return to campus after spring break. 

On top of nixed summer programs, Nellis said the cancellation of athletic events has also shaved income,“we have experienced a reduction in NCAA revenue distribution as a result of the cancelation of winter and spring NCAA championships”

Add those losses to the impending 20% cut in state funding every university is expected to experience in both this fiscal year and the next (beginning July 1, 2020). According to Nellis, that’s more than $8 million that has to go back by the end of June and $35 million less than the university was expecting to receive for the new fiscal year.

And then there’s the uncertainty of fall enrollment as families recover from the coronavirus shutdown. “Any revenue changes related to future enrollment would be in addition to the enrollment-related revenue shortfall that existed prior to the pandemic,” Nellis wrote.

Not quite the calvary but…

The email outlined a number of belt-tightening tactics, including Nellis’ announcement that he and Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs will decline any bonuses this year and cut their base salaries by 15%  for the upcoming fiscal year. Nellis’ current base salary is $489,357. Sayrs was just named to her current position in March where her salary went from $210,080 as the dean of University College to $378,750.

According to spokesperson Carly Leatherwood, Ohio University “only received guidance” on April 21 for the $19,475,431 that it would be getting from the CARES Act signed by President Donald Trump on March 27. Half of that money is earmarked as emergency grant money for students who are adversely impacted by COVID-19. 

“We have a workgroup developing a plan for funding distribution,” Leatherwood said, adding that more information would be shared in the coming weeks.

Nellis’ email also highlighted the $165,000 donors contributed to the Bobcats Take Care initiative – a homegrown support fund for students.

‘A difficult and direct impact’

But even with these and other steps, including a hiring freeze for non “critical” positions and the suspension of employee reviews, Nellis acknowledges, “this global crisis will force permanent changes in communities worldwide, including here at Ohio University. It will touch every area of the University, and it will have a difficult and direct impact on us all.”

You can read the full email here: Persevering in Uncertain Times.

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