Office of the President
Subject: Updates on Staffing, Budget, Enrollment and the Student Emergency Fund - A Message from President Clark
Dear BSU Community,
The past three months have produced difficult and unique struggles for each of us and our families, and this rapidly changing time can foster understandable anxiety for many in our BSU family. We will continue to work diligently to ease the concerns of our community while boldly and confidently addressing the challenges before us.
As I mentioned at our Town Hall meeting last Thursday, June 4, our BSU Safe Return Task Force’s planning and preparations for the return of students, faculty and staff to campus are progressing on schedule. We also now have greater clarity around our budget situation than we did when I wrote to you in April. Although the next fiscal and academic year will undoubtedly be among the most arduous in our entire history, I can assure you that BSU is in a strong position to weather the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To underscore our readiness, I will provide further updates on staffing, budget, enrollment and our Student Emergency Fund below.
Mindful of continuing state limitations on access to childcare and our own need to further the work of developing detailed guidelines, processes and training for a gradual and safe reentry of our workforce, I am extending the telecommuting option offered to employees from June 15, 2020 to July 5, 2020. Subject to evolving state level health directives, I anticipate that this will be the final university-wide telecommuting extension for this year.
Beginning on Monday, July 6, we will implement divisional and departmental-level staff return plans with very specific criteria and requirements for returning employees to campus. Our plans will be consistent with the state’s mandatory workplace safety standards, higher education sector protocols and best practices related to social distancing, hygiene, staffing, operations, cleaning and disinfecting. Our goal continues to be to limit the number of people on campus this summer while we simultaneously prepare the university for the fall semester, serve our students now and in the fall and recognize that there are staffing roles that cannot effectively be performed remotely. The safety of our employees is our overarching priority as we implement plans for returning employees to campus. You can expect to hear from your supervisors soon if they have not contacted you already.
As with our prior extension of the telecommuting option, managers and supervisors should begin reviewing their employees’ workplans to ensure the plans are continuous in their description of employee job responsibilities and provide adequate work through July 5, 2020. If a workplan should be amended to include additional projects or job responsibilities, please update the workplan previously completed and send the updated version to email@example.com. If the workplan is continuous, accurately reflects the work being performed remotely and provides adequate work through July 5, 2020, no additional action is necessary. Any employee requiring a continuation of an established accommodation to perform the essential functions of their position remotely should contact the Office of Equal Opportunity. Essential employees who currently report to campus to perform their job responsibilities should continue to do so unless otherwise directed by their manager or supervisor.
As you are aware, the university absorbed a major financial expense in FY20 when we refunded $9.2 million in unused residence hall, dining and parking costs in the spring semester. In April, the university sought and obtained Board of Trustees authorization to withdraw up to $7 million from our reserves to cover anticipated deficits. I am pleased to report that as a result of effective campus-wide budget management and the infusion of $4.4 million in federal stimulus funds, BSU will end FY20 with a balanced budget and will not need to draw from our reserves. Strong summer enrollment, prudent management of resources, our hiring pause and savings realized from a new dining services contract that we renegotiated earlier in the year also contributed to bridging the $13.1 million dollar pandemic-related revenue shortfall for FY20.
FY21 (July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021) will likely prove even more difficult than this fiscal year. We have developed four scenarios based on several factors, some of which we have little to no control over, including state appropriations. We continue planning for the worst but working hard for a better result. In our worst-case budget scenario, we would sustain a $13.5 million budget deficit next year even after accounting for budget reductions and continuing our hiring pause.
During my time as president, we have diligently built the university’s budget reserves from $4.5 million to slightly more than $15 million today, and we consequently have sufficient reserves and cash flow to carry us safely through the next fiscal year. For additional budget relief, we are working with the Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA) to refinance and restructure the debt on our residence halls, which will significantly reduce the assessment levied on BSU by the MSCBA next year.
Our budget scenarios are also intertwined with the work of the Safe Return Task Force. Our budget planning already takes into account anticipated changes to how BSU will deliver courses in the fall as well as corresponding reductions in the number of students in residence halls and the decreased utilization of dining services.
A positive budget outcome also depends on us. We are each being called upon to assist the university and ultimately ourselves. All of us must dedicate time to recruit and retain our BSU students and welcome a new incoming class to the university. We all can play a role in helping to reassure students that leaning in to their college education - regardless of how we deliver courses come the fall - is the best choice for their future. Additionally, every one of us must continue to manage resources carefully during the health crisis and recognize that staffing levels may become strained as a result of our hiring pause for a while longer.
The best of Bridgewater State University has always been found in our people. For that reason, and as I have said countless times over the past three months, our budget scenarios and planning do not include any layoffs or furloughs for full-time, benefitted employees. Our goal is to protect teaching and learning and those who provide and support it to the maximum extent possible, and to position the university to be the strongest and most competitive it can be when we emerge from the pandemic.
One of the major factors impacting university finances is enrollment. The admission teams in undergraduate, transfer, continuing studies and graduate studies, and other areas that support those efforts, have done extraordinary work in moving admission events and activities online and deploying new strategies to recruit and retain students.
Current returning student registration for fall classes is strong and, as a result, our fall 2020 headcount exceeds fall 2019 and fall 2018 as of the first week of June. For our new first-time, full-time undergraduate students, deposits are down year-over-year by about 160 students, although our transfer students are running even with last year and new graduate student deposits are up. We will continue to do everything in our power over the summer to recruit students, convert accepted students to deposited students and talk with deposited students who may still have concerns about beginning college this fall. It will be equally important to connect with current BSU students to make sure they register for fall classes and persist in their college studies. While enrollment is still an area of uncertainty here at BSU and across the nation, based on current information, we are confident that any possible enrollment declines are already built into our existing planning scenarios. Our budget scenarios also account for our decision to freeze tuition and fees for the upcoming academic year, which will assist students in continuing or starting their college careers.
Student Emergency Fund
Finally, I also want to provide a brief update on our Student Emergency Fund, which was created to help students who have been impacted financially by COVID-19. Thanks to many of you and other donors who have generously contributed to the Fund and to federal funding provided as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, BSU has been able to award nearly $1 million dollars and counting to more than 1,500 students who applied for support.
Importantly, unlike many colleges and universities which disbursed all their CARES Act funding on a per student basis, BSU adopted a more targeted approach in assisting students with demonstrated need. As a result, we project that we will have $3.2 million remaining in the Fund to further assist students throughout the forthcoming academic year.
Once again, thank you for all you do to teach and support our students and to serve this great university. If a crisis truly tests the mettle of an institution, I am proud to say that BSU’s mettle has once again proven itself to be resilient and formidable – thanks to you.
Frederick W. Clark Jr., Esq.