Winthrop University Budget Could Take $7 Million Hit Due To Coronavirus

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Winthrop University could experience a $7 million impact on the university budget because of the coronavirus disruption, Interim President George Hynd told the Board of Trustees Friday.

That amount includes loss of revenue from events, potential reduction in fees to students and unexpected expenses to move courses online.

Like other public universities, Winthrop expects some state and federal relief, Hynd said, but it is not known when or how much the university would receive from the state, the CARES Act or the coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress last week.

“The Board of Trustees certainly recognizes the challenges COVID-19 presents not only for those involved in teaching and learning, but also for business operations,” Board Chair Glenn McCall noted. “These are times the likes of which we have never experienced as a university community. The administration’s prudent decision-making that focuses on today’s realities and future expectations is appreciated by the board as we work together to move the university forward.”

Refunds
With the majority of students having vacated the residence halls for the semester just last week, about $3.8 million would be for housing and dining reductions in fees, according to Justin Oates, vice president for finance and business affairs/CFO.

“We expect to look at each student’s current bill to determine how adjustments will be achieved. Obviously, we want to extend payment deadlines, as well, to help our students,” Oates said. “Parking fees are another area for which students can expect an adjustment.”

Hynd said the university has been looking into the refund situation for weeks, guided by the Commission on Higher Education and its discussions with other university presidents. The commission has been working on guiding principles for the state’s colleges and universities as they tackle the refund topic.

Consistent with the CHE’s advice, Winthrop will not refund any tuition or other fees. Students are still taking classes, and they have access to the library, post office, and health and counseling services, among other offerings, Oates noted.

“Residence hall, dining and parking charges will be prorated from March 23, 2020, until the end of the semester,” he said.  Staff will begin the process by examining individual student accounts to calculate specific fee adjustments based on the residence hall and the type of meal plan chosen by the student.  Any monies due as a result of fee adjustments will first be applied to unpaid bills in the student accounts.  Students should expect to see fee adjustments take effect starting this month. 

Other costs
Winthrop has spent almost $20,000 to bring all but two study abroad students home — those two students decided to continue their studies even though they were recalled by the university. Refunds also will be provided for students and faculty members who had already placed deposits on future study and travel abroad.

More than $1M has been spent to date on costs related to technology to support remote instruction and working from home, Hynd noted. Those costs have included technology equipment and software, as well as training to help faculty manage continuity of instruction when delivering classes online.  

Adrienne McCormick, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, noted the positive response from the Winthrop community. “The good news is that both students and faculty members are becoming acclimated to what is for some a new and challenging form of teaching and learning. We are seeing success, and that is heartening,” she said. “Advising also is happening now, and it, too, is being completed remotely.”

Hiring and Budget Freeze
Also effective April 3, the board authorized an immediate, temporary hiring freeze that covers certain vacant state-funded positions until further notice. The university’s Committee on Personnel Actions and Hynd will oversee the freeze. 

Additionally, the president was authorized to implement an immediate budget freeze until further notice in order to reallocate needed funds toward technology and security needs related to online instruction, remote work, admissions, campus safety, and other needs at the discretion of the president.

“These are not easy decisions to make, but they are warranted to ensure that we have the resources to continue to engage in exceptional teaching, learning, and service; be an employer of choice; and support our current faculty and staff as we move into the future,” Hynd said.

Test Optional Admissions

Hynd also shared with the board Winthrop’s request to temporarily adjust admissions criteria for summer 2020 and 2020-21 enrollment.

Vice President for Access and Enrollment Management Eduardo Prieto noted that COVID-19 has created previously unforeseen obstacles for some prospective students.

“Adjusting our admissions criteria will allow students who are still interested in Winthrop to be considered without them having to present standardized test scores at a time when testing may not be an option,” Prieto said.  “It will give us the flexibility to evaluate their admission based on alternative criteria if necessary.”

The board recessed its meeting until Monday, April 6, at 12:30 p.m. in order to review additional information requested regarding test optional admissions prior to taking action on the request.