Fort Lewis College plans to be open for business in the fall with the preferred option of holding on-campus, in-person classes, but planning for a variety of possibilities is underway as administrators deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The news came Monday in a town hall held by FLC President Tom Stritikus, Provost Cheryl Nixon and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Julie Love.
“COVID-19 has thrown us many curveballs, and we will be ready for whatever comes our way, but our preference will be to meet face-to-face,” Stritikus said during the hourlong virtual meeting held Monday.
Nixon said FLC is known for small classes with faculty providing generous amounts of personal attention to students, and faculty has been “creative and innovative” in transferring those attributes to 700 classes that were moved from classrooms to online in a week’s time.
Love said that field classes and camps held at FLC during the summer have largely been canceled for early in the season, but there is still a possibility that late-summer camps and field classes could be held.
“Early summer is going to be a little slow, and late summer is in the wait-and-see mode,” Love told the online audience.
Stritikus warned that FLC’s planned $32.8 million Health Science Center project, ranked as the No. 1 capital expenditure for higher education among the state’s public universities and colleges, remains under threat because of an anticipated state budget shortfall.
Currently, the state budget is estimated to be $3 billion short of projections made before COVID-19 brought commerce, and taxes collected on it, to a grinding halt, and Stritikus said all capital projects are under threat of budget cuts as state lawmakers seek to cover the shortfall.
“We are concerned all capital projects will be cut,” Stritikus said.
State revenue will be down in 2020, but it remains uncertain by how much, he said.
Before the novel coronavirus decimated commerce tax revenues, Stritikus said FLC was looking at receiving a 7.5% increase in state funding, which makes up about 25% of FLC revenues.
Now, it looks unlikely that any revenue increase from the state will be likely in 2020.
The majority of FLC’s revenue, more than 70%, comes from tuition.
Enrollment for next year is currently 6% behind where it was last year, and Stritikus said the school is modeling for enrollment to be anywhere from flat to 8% lower than FLC’s current enrollment of about 3,230 undergraduate and 80 graduate students.
Universities and colleges across the country are struggling with recruitment for next year as COVID-19 imposes financial limits on students and families, Stritikus said.
“We had been modeling a 10% enrollment decline. If we beat a 10% enrollment decline, it will be a big win for us,” he said.