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Irene Choi and Sawyer Loftus are news reporters for the Vermont Cynic, where a version of this article was first published.
The University of Vermont has called on the state to provide the school with $25 million in additional funds to confront “serious challenges” facing the university due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an April 15 letter to Gov. Phil Scott, UVM President Suresh Garimella said the university has faced millions of dollars in unanticipated out-of-pocket expenses and, coupled with uncertain revenue forecasts, is in need of more cash.
UVM is asking the state to dip into the federal dollars it’s expected to receive from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, to ensure the university can weather the nearing financial storm.
“If UVM is to remain a viable and vibrant research university, and the third-largest employer in the state, we have a lot of catching up to do so that we can continue to attract students from Vermont and from across the country and around the globe,” the letter says.
Currently, the Vermont state government gives UVM $42.5 million a year to support the institution.
The current financial situation
Garimella has asked the state to continue to provide that $42.5 million along with an additional $25 million, bringing the total of the state’s contributions to the university to $67.5 million.
For the 2020 fiscal year, UVM operated with $382 million in total revenue. The state’s appropriation made up 11% of that. In turn, the university planned to spend roughly that same amount.
As the Covid-19 pandemic intensifies, the university is in the process of dealing out $5.5 million in housing credits to students who were forced to flee their dorms as states and the university’s campus shut down, according to the letter.
Additionally, UVM has incurred more than $500,000 in educational costs related to rolling out online learning for its entire student body, the letter states.
The university will also be forced to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave and 10 weeks of paid family medical leave due to the federal government’s Family First Coronavirus Response Act, adding more of a financial burden on the university, according to the letter.
In the letter, Garimella says UVM needs to immediately and substantially invest in online learning, which comes at an added cost.
He also said the university intends to make good on its pledge not to raise tuition for the coming academic year, which was announced last November.
However, the largest source of revenue for the university is tuition, which accounts for 74% of the total revenue, according to the budget.
What is UVM requesting?
In addition to Vermont’s recurring $42.5 million to UVM, Garimella is asking for $2 million each fiscal year for a new UVM Office of Engagement, which will be used as a consulting service for the state of Vermont to help businesses, according to the letter.
The rest of the $25 million is requested as one-time support, including:
— $4 million to assist in funding paid sick and family leave required by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
— $500,000 to reimburse technology costs due to Covid-19.
— $5.5 million to reimburse the expense of providing housing credits to students.
— $5 million to assist UVM to “prepare to survive and thrive” in a changing educational environment.
— $8 million to provide more financial aid to students following the economic crisis created by Covid-19.
Without the additional funds, according to UVM, the university will have to look at other cost-saving options such as layoffs and redirecting funds from educational needs.
In his letter, Garimella also pointed out various ways in which the university has provided assistance to the state’s effort in combating the outbreak, including: making Patrick Gym available as a surge site for patients; arranging for 95 nursing students to graduate early to provide relief for overstressed health care workers; preparing 4,000 test kits; and designing a new emergency ventilator.
Tim Ashe, president pro tem of the Vermont Senate, said in an interview that UVM has already felt the impact of Covid-19 and that it is not alone. Other colleges and universities have also been hit with uncertain financial futures.
“They’re [UVM] not alone, but that doesn’t make it go away,” Ashe said. “Just because misery has company, doesn’t make it any less miserable.”
Ashe said the conversation around what the federal government will give higher education institutions like the University of Vermont has been limited but says it needs to do more.
“They’ve been fairly limited in what they’ve directed to institutions, and it’s not enough,” he said. “The very best thing that could happen is the federal government providing a substantial amount of money to make higher ed institutions like UVM whole.”
The offices of Gov. Phil Scott and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.
In his remarks to the Vermont Cynic, Ashe said an additional challenge facing the university is the fact that prospective students can’t come to visit the school because of stay-at-home orders throughout the country.
“One of the challenges for UVM and every other college is just when you hope some potential students would be visiting to determine if they want to attend they’ve had to cancel most, if not all, of the recruiting and orientation sessions,” Ashe said. “So in terms of enrollment for incoming students next year, no one has any idea what it’s gonna look like.”
Because UVM relies so heavily on tuition and so much uncertainty exists around what exactly the next incoming class will look like, the university is in a precarious position, he said.
Ashe did offer a glimmer of hope, saying the state and UVM will have to work together as the two go hand in hand.
“The health and vitality of not just Burlington, but the whole state, is really dependent on a strong, healthy UVM,” he said. “So we’re gonna all partner together to make sure we get to the other side of this.”
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