In a recent NACUBO survey of business officers on current circumstances and future plans, some reported enrollment increases, but most foresee continuing declines in auxiliary and athletic revenue and delays in deferred maintenance.
“The uncertainty of the end of the pandemic and unknown changes in students' plans to attend college make estimating revenues extremely challenging,” one NACUBO member noted in response to NACUBO’s year-end survey, conducted December 16, 2020–January 7, 2021.
Another stated, “CARES [Act] funds have been a savior in many ways.”
NACUBO issued the survey to seek insights on the current academic year fiscal concerns and to better understand how colleges and universities are planning for FY22. In total, 151 chief business and financial officers responded.
NACUBO will share results from this survey in two parts; first, here, with a focus on current circumstances. A second analysis will follow, with an emphasis on strategies undertaken by institutions to contend with the financial impacts of the pandemic.
The survey responses show that the majority of institutions are continuing their hybrid approach to teaching and learning this spring.
“Until the vaccine is widely distributed, it's nearly impossible to project enrollment with any degree of certainty,” one respondent remarked. Most institutions are reporting Fall 2020 enrollment declines compared to last year and projecting the same for spring terms in 2021. Contrary to trends seen in past economic downturns, community colleges saw the steepest enrollment declines.
When we looked at the survey responses by region, however, there was a notable difference in responses from the Southern region: A number of Southern-region universities reported Fall 2020 enrollment increases and are projecting spring enrollment increases as well.
“We will be counting on our reserves to get us through the next two years as we right-size to meet state budget cuts,” one individual reported in the open-ended comments. NACUBO asked business officers about reserve fund policies and a majority of respondents reported that their institution’s reserve fund policies and practices are adequate and remain steady.
However, some comments illustrated a heightened attention to liquidity:
“Our cash reserves and liquidity monitoring is now a daily task. Concerns about adequate liquidity will grow as the pandemic continues.”
“We have put a stop to any capital projects in order to preserve cash.”
“While the policy has not changed, we have rotated out of higher yielding short-term cash reserve investments. Additionally, we have doubled our unsecured line of credit to provide more liquidity if needed.”
Declines in auxiliary revenues for FY22 (academic year 2021-22) are anticipated by nearly all survey respondents. The most frequently anticipated budget and financial changes for next year, in rank order, are—
- Decline in auxiliary revenue
- Delays in deferred maintenance
- Decline in athletic revenue
- Across-the-board budget cuts
When we looked separately at four-year and two-year public institutions, declining state funding was a top concern.
No respondents to our survey identified financial exigency as a top-ranked budget or financial change anticipated for FY22. Nor did any of the 151 respondents report being in the process of closure.
Strategies for FY22
Part two of our analysis takes a deeper dive into the responses and sheds light on the financial strategies being deployed by institutions—and illuminates key differences in how different types of colleges are responding to the COVID-19 outfall. Read more here.