A red alert is out at Fort Lewis College as the school scrambles to come to terms with the financial hit taken to meet the demands placed on it by COVID-19.
On Tuesday, FLC’s Board of Trustees held a special meeting on Zoom to begin examining the scope of the budgetary hole they’ll face next year.
FLC President Tom Stritikus said so far the school has incurred about $3.6 million in losses related to COVID-19, but losses are sure to mount.
Budget cuts won’t come this year, but next year’s numbers are up in the air and the current picture is a not pretty one, Stritikus said. But he said it’s too early to say budget cuts will be necessary, saying “too many unknowns” are out there now to know.
No one on campus has been furloughed or laid off, he said.
Currently, Stritikus estimated, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, will bring $3 million to the school. Half of that aid will go directly to students as relief to cover their personal losses.
“Our students certainly have experienced real trauma and real disruption in their lives,” Stritikus said. “Students had all sorts of expenses that popped up for them. Many of our students worked in restaurants downtown. So all of a sudden they don’t have income or they had to buy a plane ticket home when they weren’t expecting it.”
The $1.5 million to assist students has not yet been received by FLC, and the school is working on procedures to disburse the funds, which likely will be needs-based rather than cutting a check of the same amount to each student, Stritikus said.
FLC already has provided some assistance to students.
About $200,000 went out to help students with computer needs, such as internet access and computers and other costs associated with moving classes online. The school has moved 700 courses online in the past two weeks.
Another $110,000 came from the private donations to the FLC Foundation for Skyhawk Persistence grants to help students with lost income and other personal expenses.
FLC has been struggling to maintain its enrollment numbers, and the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting enrollment projections across the country. FLC is currently down 10% in the number of students who have paid a confirmation deposit for next academic year compared with the same point in 2019, Stritikus said.
The remaining $1.5 million from the CARES Act won’t come close to covering the school’s coronavirus-related losses already tallied at $3.6 million.
Stritikus said the school is working with U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to press the need for more assistance for higher education in future federal relief packages.
Overall, $50 billion has been provided in the CARES Act as relief for higher education across the country, but Stritikus said that covers only about a third of the losses suffered nationwide.
The budgetary picture only grew grimmer when FLC trustees began examining what might be anticipated in the upcoming state budget, which has been delayed several weeks as the Legislature has adjourned because of the pandemic.
FLC legislative consultant Ed Bowditch told trustees state revenue – dependent on income and sales taxes – is so bad one scenario talked about in Denver is eliminating all spending on new construction at higher education campuses across the state.
Unfortunately, FLC’s new $32.8 million Health Science Center is ranked as the No.1 priority for construction funding for construction next year.
Decisions about state budget cuts are likely to be made in mid-May, Bowditch told trustees. The COVID-19-battered state budget is likely to go to the governor May 30, he told trustees.
“I think we have a great case to make for the Health Science Center,” Stritikus said. “People need health services now more desperately than ever, and the construction period can help stabilize the local economy.”