Coastal Carolina University officials announced their intentions today to open up for face-to-face classes in August, but they anticipate up to 15 percent fewer students because of the COVID-19 crisis, which could force the university to slash spending.
"Fulfilling our educational mission will require resourcefulness and flexibility, but we will succeed. The process by which we will return to full operations is guided by our regard for public health and our determination to best serve our students, and we share this news so our students and families are clear – they can and should plan to come back to CCU this August," CCU President David DeCenzo said in a statement. "We look forward to meeting our new students, and we are planning for a reunion with our continuing students."
DeCenzo said during Friday's Board of Trustees meeting that there are still questions regarding how lower enrollment numbers will affect possible budget cuts.
“Until the General Assembly reaches some decisions on a continuing resolution, there’s really nothing that we can do,” CCU President David DeCenzo said. “Obviously we are following the governor’s activities as he moves to open up the state … the social distancing and what effect that is going to have on us. We’re watching, but until the executive order is rescinded that allows us to open campus, we’re kind of sitting on our hands waiting.”
Trustee Wyatt Henderson said that if the enrollment creeps below that 15%, even more drastic cuts will be needed.
“At 15%, we are still good with our bond ratios," he said. "Anything worse and we are going to have to take a serious look. Right now, we’re hoping the worst-case scenario is the 15% drop … [otherwise] the board will have to take more aggressive measures later this summer."
Chief Financial Officer David Frost said CCU is planning for two budget scenarios. If the campus opens for face-to-face learning, the university's shortfall would be about $23 million. If Coastal is forced to limit its educational offerings to online-only programs, the budget would have to be cut by $41 million.
“Our desired result is back face-to-face with students," Frost said. "We are concerned with our enrollment right now."
Frost said they may have to reduce staff. Furloughs and early retirement options are on the table. He said the university is developing a “voluntary separation” program.
"Clearly it is our intention to open up the institution with the start of fall semester," DeCenzo said. "I's absolutely necessary and certainly when you take all the factors into play, it's crucial we have the opportunity to open up."
Frost noted that CCU did not increase tuition for in-state or out-of-state students for this budget cycle.
“We just don’t feel in this environment that we can do that,” Frost said.
DeCenzo agreed, saying that times are tough for many people right now.
"Because of unemployment and because of so much uncertainty, a lot of families recognize that sending a $200 deposit to CCU right now might be the difference as to whether or not they have money to purchase groceries," DeCenzo said.
The school recently refunded $8.8 million in refunds to students for housing, food, and parking after the school closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus. The CARES Act gave $10 million to the institution, but a mandate made the school give half of that back to the students.
The other $5 million, Frost said, will be used in the budget going forward to help deal with the costs incurred as a result of COVID-19.
Provost Dan Ennis said in-state deposits are down relative to the number of applications, while out-of-state deposits are up relative to the same.
“Where we’re working diligently is retaining as many returning undergrads as possible,” Ennis said.
DeCenzo addressed questions he had received on whether there would be an across-the-board pay cut for the university and its administration.
“That to me is a last resort,” he said. “I need to ‘right size’ the institution first, and look at what we’re doing with enrollment and the state budget, and when we find out if we get to a point where we are greater than that 15%. I’m saving that until the final … simply because quite frankly to take a pay cut now and two weeks from now furlough someone, that doesn’t make sense.”
He said the biggest challenge is considering "if they are a 9,000-student university, and the staffing they had for 10,600 students is more than they need."
“I want to get it the right size first before I go into any kind of pay cut,” DeCenzo said.
He went on to say that several committees have been formed that are helping identify cost-saving measures, as well as some committed to helping to open the university in a smooth manner. Some will determine what is needed in terms of testing and social distancing.
Trustee Chairman Bill Biggs told the group that he had COVID-19 recently, and has since tested negative and is fully-recovered.
"I never had any symptoms, I felt fine through it, but I really didn't like being at home that long," Biggs said. "With this virus, we just don't know what's going to happen."
Trustee George Mullen worried that if the school does not open for face-to-face learning, CCU will lose other students to Clemson and the University of South Carolina. Those schools have already announced they will open in the fall.
"We need to be unequivocal in our statement that we will open in August," Mullen said. "If the governor says something different a month from now, we change. Our position sitting here today needs to be absolutely we are opening in August."