The University of Connecticut will begin the school year this week with a projected deficit of $73.8 million for fiscal year 2021, and that’s the best-case scenario. If students are forced to leave campus early due to an outbreak of COVID-19, the university could see a $116.2 million deficit.
In an attempt to offset the financial impact, UConn President Tom Katsouleas told lawmakers on Friday that the state’s flagship university is planning to cut between $48 and $60 million from a budget of just over $1.5 billion.
“There are not enough paper clips to cut to make this difference. We are cutting at the core of what we do,” said Katsouleas at Friday’s Appropriations Committee hearing. “We are cutting course offerings, library journal subscriptions, clinical outreach, extension programs in the school of education and agriculture, the expansion of the Masters of Social Work program…”
The list of planned cuts is extensive, spanning everything from graduate assistantships to a 10 percent cut in senior management salaries to the woodwind and conducting programs in the School of Fine Arts.
“We tried to make priorities that avoided long-term harm to the institution and minimized the impact on current students,” Katsouleas said. “But even with all that, we are looking at more cuts. Cuts with temporary short-term harm to prevent long-term harm to the reputation and strength of the university.”
The largest loss of income comes from the decline in students living and dining on campus. In a typical school year 12,000 students live on campus. This fall just 5,000 students have returned to Storrs. Others enrolled — including all out-of-state students not requiring in-person instruction — will be learning remotely.
“This housing number is really a result of the market,” explained UConn Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty. Although there has not been a decline in student enrollment, and 6,600 beds are available to students, only 5,000 chose to return.
The projected $73.8 million loss comes on the heels of a $31.8 million loss this spring due to the COVID-19 shut down. As of yet, the University received $10 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help cover the losses.
As for seeking additional aid, the school is waiting to hear back from the Federal Emergency Management Agency before requesting aid from the state government — the same plan being adopted by nearly every state agency from Corrections to the Department of Education.
“Almost every agency that we’ve talked to is waiting for FEMA and I’m starting to get concerned about it because it weakens their ability and your ability. It’s like we are going to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Something in your balance sheet is going to be waiting for a long time and you are going to be covering those expenses one way or the other. We are making agencies and non-profits unstable by passing that on.”
University officials said that the projected losses could have been much worse.
“We developed partnerships with universities overseas to keep international students in the pipeline,” said Nathan Fuerst, vice president of enrollment planning and management. “This fall we were able to offset international students with a corresponding increase in out-of-state students leading to a close to zero loss on the tuition side.”
Typically, international students make up about 10 percent of the student body. This year those spots are being filled by out-of-state students, without a decline in-state enrollment, Fuerst said.
“In fact, we have a couple hundred more students enrolling at our regional campuses,” Fuerst said. Many of those students would be able to attend classes and still live at home.
On the research side, Katsouleas said that he had feared a substantial decrease in grant funding, but the University actually ended fiscal year 2020 with a record high: $280 million in funding compared to $256 million in 2019.