Low Enrollment Reduces UW’s Forecasted Revenue by $ 2.3 Million | Regional news

Small freshman classes over the past two years and a wait-and-see approach to attendance during the pandemic have driven enrollment at the University of Wyoming down 6.3% from fall 2019.

The news, delivered to administrators last week, likely presents new challenges for the university’s already struggling finances.

Some 11,479 students are enrolled this semester, well below the pre-pandemic level of 12,249 as of fall 2019, the university said in a statement on Monday. This is a slight decrease from last fall, when the number of registrations fell to 11,829 after UW switched to an online-centric model.

UW officials had expected enrollment to rebound this fall after announcing a return to a “traditional” fall semester over the summer.

Instead, the continued decline means UW faces another revenue challenge.

Because tuition revenues have plummeted, UW is now nearly $ 1 million less than its expected net income for general operations from 2021-2022, administrators told administrators last week.

“We’ve heard that a lot of students are planning on coming back but have just decided to wait another semester to see how things turn out,” Provost Kevin Carman told the Trustees Budget Committee.

The university asked deans over the summer to contact students who were due to return to college but had not yet enrolled, Carman said.

“We received a lot of feedback that most of the students were planning to come back, but they just hadn’t finalized that decision. But a lot of them have finally decided they are going to wait another semester, so it will be interesting to see if we have a rebound in January, ”he said, noting that this is a critical moment for many.

“We also know that in general in higher education, once a student leaves their likelihood of returning drastically decreases, so we really have to keep a full press to communicate with those students and get them back in. the fold, ”Carman said.

UW student body president Hunter Swilling said the COVID-19 pandemic had had “devastating effects on student engagement, mental health and general health.” As a result, the student body has allocated an additional $ 75,000 for mental health resources from the tuition fees it controls, he said.

While fall enrollments are lower than expected, this year’s freshman class is 3.7% larger than last year, and first-time Wyoming student enrollment is on the rise by 11%, reports UW.

In addition to digging a hole in the general operating budget of UW, declining enrollment is also an unforeseen budgetary stressor for the university’s housing and catering operations, which were already consolidated with less money. employees last year. This department already has 17 vacant positions and has no plans to fill them due to existing budget constraints, said Eric Webb, executive director of residential living and catering services.

For the year 2021-2022, UW is now forecasting $ 1.3 million less revenue for its accommodation and food services activities, a decrease of 33% from the $ 3.9 million originally planned.

Fewer students in dormitories mean an expected drop in income of $ 500,000 for these operations, and $ 775,000 less in income is expected in the newly adjusted catering operations.

UW has also revised its menus, using cheaper ingredients, due to inflated food prices.

Beef prices, year over year, are up 14%. We didn’t budget for 14%, ”said Webb.

UW operations have also been affected by labor shortages linked to COVID-19, including a shortage of bus drivers which has led the university to suspend some bus lines, starting in August. .

The board voted on Friday to continue to require masking on campus as a COVID-19 security protocol, with plans to review the mask requirement at each monthly board meeting.

“The response has been overwhelmingly a sigh of relief with the tenure in place,” Senate Speaker Chris Maki told administrators. “Staff know what is expected of them and we can expect the same from our students and faculty. “

With the exception of a vaccination warrant, UW officials said the masks offer the university the best chance at maintaining in-person classes.

“It shouldn’t be seen as restrictive,” said David Jones, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “It allows us to be in class. If things get out of hand, we go back to virtual. “

UW dropped its previous masking requirement on May 24 in what has been described as continuing the “transition to a traditional fall 2021 semester.” At the time, President Ed Seidel said the UW was on track for a “pre-pandemic environment”.

But that was before a wave of the Delta variant swept across the country. On August 16, knowing that students would be returning to campus amid high transmission of variant infections, UW administrators voted to demand masks for a month.

With new data on COVID-19, the new masking policy was designed to be a little more lenient than last year. Underneath, masking is only required indoors where social distancing is not possible. Administrators also exempted voluntary public events, such as sporting or musical performances, from the masking requirement.

The administrator’s vote to extend the requirement came after Seidel’s COVID-19 advisory group recommended that the mask requirement be in place for the remainder of the fall semester.

“The students and faculty have been very clear about consistency,” said faculty Senate president Adrienne Freng. “We don’t want to have to go back and forth. This will create a lot of confusion for the students as well as an increase in application problems for the faculty. … Masks allow currently vaccinated students not to necessarily self-quarantine if they have had close contact. Missing a week of class is extremely detrimental, in many cases, to student success.

There have been few compliance issues with the mask requirement so far this year, employees reported. Freng noted a handful of “isolated incidents” and board Jeff Marsh noted that a student had stepped down to protest the rule.

While administrators were initially receptive to the decision to require masking for the remainder of the semester, they ultimately chose to revert to the topic at their monthly meetings.

“I’m very hesitant to say that we should have a policy in place for the entire semester,” said administrator Macey Moore. “I hope we can always encourage more vaccinations and we can hang that carrot out there that if we have more vaccinations you might be able to see these masks come off sooner. I don’t want to get into the culture where these masks are here to stay forever. “

The university first announced incentives to vaccinate students on July 9, when only 1,665 UW students said they had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Since then, UW has raffled off cash, free semester tuition, and other prizes for students who provide proof of vaccination.

UW and other Albany County entities announced another raffle in August that includes weekly draws of $ 1,000 for vaccinated residents of Albany County.

UW has implemented a one-time mandatory COVID-19 test for all employees and students at the start of the semester, with weekly random testing of 3% of the campus population for the remainder of the semester.

As of Monday, Albany County had 136 active cases of COVID-19 and UW had 54 active cases of COVID-19, according to the university’s website.

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