UA President Stuart R. Bell provided updates to the CW on Thursday, April 30, about the process to secure and distribute the $20.8 million of funding from the CARES Act, the decision to cut non-essential expenditures and the intention to reopen campus for the Fall semester.
THE CARES ACT
The University is set to receive $20.8 million in stimulus funding from the CARES Act, the highest amount of any university in the state, but the timeline for receiving and distributing the money was unknown at the time of Bell’s statement.
In an interview with AL.com, Finis St. John, chancellor of The University of Alabama System, said the University has experienced $40-50 million in financial loss.
Half of the stimulus funding is intended to defray institutional expenses while $10.3 million is to be distributed to students with outstanding financial need.
Bell said both elements of the sum are important, and they are in the process of deciding on a system to distribute these resources to students.
Estimated family contribution (EFC) is one of the metrics being considered to identify students with financial need since the University already has access to this data through FAFSA. Bell expressed the benefit of using pre-existing data to expedite the process while also considering the needs not captured by numbers like EFC.
There are thousands of students on campus who qualify for need-based financial assistance. For the 2018-19 academic year, 8,289 grants were awarded to UA students; this includes Federal Pell Grants, Federal SEOG and Alabama State Grants, according to institutional data.
There is no predetermined number of students who will receive assistance. Even if criteria like EFC is used, the University will still have to determine a cut-off point for qualifying students.
In addition to the CARES Act funding, Bell mentioned funds from donors being used to meet student needs.
CUTTING NON-ESSENTIAL EXPENDITURES
In an email statement on the financial impact of COVID-19, the University outlined measures taken to reduce the impact on students, faculty and staff.
These measures include: “placing a hold on filling non-essential and vacant positions; reducing expenses related to facilities, energy and utilities; eliminating non-essential expenditures, supplies, services, travel, contracts and projects; delaying construction projects where possible; and suspending the 403(b) employer match for participating employees until September 30, 2020.”
“If you were to take a look at our budget,” Bell said. “What you would see is 70-80% of our budget is people.”
In the most recent report from the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, the total operating expenses for the fiscal year were $1.1 billion with $728 million being listed under salaries, wages and benefits.
In an effort to minimize the impact on current employees and to avoid salary cuts, layoffs or furloughs, restrictions were set on the hiring end.
But, any hires being funded by grants from an outside agency will continue since it does not pull from University dollars.
INTENTIONS FOR THE FALL SEMESTER
As the semester draws to a close, Bell reflected on the graduating class of 2020, while also emphasizing the accomplishment of finishing the spring semester.
“I think anytime you complete your final exams, that’s always an accomplishment, but more importantly for this semester,” he said.
Bell said he was proud of the students’ and faculty’s capability to achieve and face adversity while the university dealt with the uncertainty.
“For our faculty to move in that direction over about a week and a half period, they are rockstars in my book,” he said. “And our students have gone back to their communities and served their communities in what I think are truly remarkable ways.”
Bell said after making sure the university was on track to finish the spring semester, he focused on what the fall semester would look like.
He said he formed a task force comprised of individuals from different aspects of the campus that would work on creating a plan for the fall semester. Currently, the task force is sharing ideas for the plan.
Bell said in the upcoming semester, some elements of the spring semester would be incorporated into the fall like the faculties’ use of technology to provide information. He said they would, also, be working to make sure everyone is healthy and safe.
Though there will be new elements in the upcoming fall semester, Bell said he doesn’t want to lose the experience that makes The University of Alabama unique. He said he wants to make sure everyone is safe and healthy while also having experiences that are important to them.
As UA students graduate and others close another chapter in their undergraduate careers, he could still hear the drums of their progress.
“As I reflect back in the uncertain times and the uncertainty that surrounds us; it reminds me of our Million Dollar Band on a Saturday morning on a fall week,” he said. “When there’s lots of emotion, lots of noise on our campus. I can always hear the Million Dollar Band.”