University hosts town hall on recovery plan, fall enrollment

Marquette's Zilber Hall. (Marquette Wire stock photo.)

Marquette's Zilber Hall. (Marquette Wire stock photo.)

Marquette University has netted a loss of about $15 million due to the coronavirus pandemic and the act of moving students, faculty and staff off campus in late March.

Joel Pogodzinski, senior vice president and chief operating officer, said in a COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Forum June 10 that the loss is primarily from the loss of room and board. Nearly ¾ of the university’s revenues come from tuition and room and board fees while nearly ⅔ of expenses go towards compensation and benefits.

Moderated by Xavier Cole, vice president for student affairs, the event included remarks from President Michael Lovell, Provost Kimo Ah Yun and other members of Marquette’s COVID-19 Response Team.

Pogodzinski said the university has made reductions in discretionary spending, focused furloughs and accepted aid through the CARES Act, which have created a “modest operating surplus.”

Pogodzinski said that the forecast for the 2021 fiscal year includes a loss of between $20 and $25 million from known risks such as a smaller incoming class, increased financial aid, and COVID-19 recovery costs.

However, campus disruptions in the fall and spring from further waves of CODI-19, potential losses from cancelled events and athletics, and additional costs dedicated to health and safety concerns from the virus could mean additional yet unknown monetary risks. 

To mitigate these costs, Pogodzinski said that Marquette has already suspended awarding merit aid, or financial assistance based on merit rather than need, for incoming students for the 2021 fiscal year and extended discretionary spending reductions. He said that the university is also considering suspending the 403b retirement plan employer match, reducing wages across the university and furloughing or laying off employees across the university.

Pogodzinski said that next steps include monitoring the unknown financial risks mentioned above, evaluating “potential impacts on future cohorts” and assessing “structural cost changes and revenue growth opportunities.”

“Our principal goal is to keep everyone employed but we will all have to do our part to get through this,” Lovell said. “Kimo and I have already begun taking voluntary furloughs since the end of April, which have amounted to about a 10% pay cut.”

Lovell said that he and Ah Yun are committed to taking the greatest reduction on campus. 

Additionally, Marquette has instituted a guaranteed admission and scholarship policy, which will apply to both students deferring their enrollment and to those who will wish to transfer in spring or fall of 2021, according to John Baworowsky, vice president for enrollment management. He said that the offer was extended to students of the class of 2024 in order to allow them to keep their spot at Marquette while facing financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic. 

He also said that the nearly $4 million Marquette has received has come from three sources. The majority has come from the CARES Act, with $354,000 coming from the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant and $319,000 from Institutional Scholarship funds such as the Bridge to the Future Fund. This money has been disbursed to 3,072 students, according to Baworowsky.

Enrollment for fall 2020 is down by 226 students compared to fall 2019 enrollment, John Baworowsky, vice president for enrollment management, said in a COVID-19 Town Hall Forum June 10. 

Marquette’s geographic population breakdown remains quite similar to previous years, as the drop in students enrolling at Marquette has been consistent across geographic groups, Baworowsky said.

“The pandemic has disproportionately impacted underrepresented groups,” he said. 

However, he said that the Educational Opportunities Program “is fully subscribed this fall with 66 new students,” despite diversity being 29.3% compared to last year’s 29.6%. The program “is an academic program that motivates and enables low-income and first generation students whose parents do not have a baccalaureate degree to enter and succeed in higher education,” according to its website.

To combat the decline in student deposits, Baworowsky said that Marquette is continuing to recruit students, handling an increased volume of financial appeals through Marquette Central, working on classroom assignments that adhere to social distancing guidelines and making EOP summer programs virtual.

Lora Strigens, vice president for planning and facilities management, introduced the five steps of the Recovery Plan’s framework, which include planning, foundation, facilities, occupancy and dorm move-in. She said that more detailed guidelines on Step 2, or Foundational, are on the university’s COVID-19 website.

“As we look ahead, we are actively working on the next generation of these guidelines, and we expect those to be issued sometime in July,” she said. “The Step 3 guidelines will include more robust information regarding our physical campus and expand upon the information contained in Step 2.”

Strigens also outlined the steps for returning to on-site work, which included a formal request, review and approval by the Recovery Team. She said that the instructions to submit a request are on the university’s COVID-19 website.

Cole said that the university is examining social distancing measures in the buildings and dorms and is working on “dedensifying” students’ populations in various spaces across campus. He said that the university will release specifics at a later date.

Claudia Paetsch, vice president for human resources, then talked about the Employee Emergency Grant Fund, which received over $40,000 in donations.

Paetesch also said that Marquette communicates with its furloughed employees about once a week via email to keep them informed. 

Different groups will return to work based on individual availability for their duties, whether online or in person, Strigens said. She did not give examples of which groups might return to work at different times.

Following Pogodzinski, Ah Yun spoke about future possibilities for revenue growth, which include high demand for the College of Nursing, especially in the current climate of increased need for medical professionals.

“I’m happy to announce that this fall we will have the highest graduate enrollment in the last decade at Marquette and that the Graduate School of Management will be up 11% from last year,” he said. “And the reason we have these sorts of gains is because we put into place programs that provide us the pathways to be able to open up programs that are successful.”

Ah Yun also talked about the success of certain “incubator programs,” such as the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program and the Behavior Analysis Master’s program. He also said that revenue growth could arise from a restructuring of the pricing in Humanities Master’s.

Additionally, Lovell said a similar even to the town hall next Wednesday will focus on racial injustice and “will feature a panel of university leaders, including President Michael R. Lovell, Provost Kimo Ah Yun, Vice President for Inclusive Excellence William Welburn, as well as faculty and students,” according to a Marquette Today news release. The release also provides the link to register for the virtual event.

“If we see racism and injustice, we must be brave and call it out,” Lovell said. “For those of us in places of privilege, we need to use that privilege to work, to break down systems that are inherently unfair to members of our society.” 

The event ended with a Q&A session, which included both questions from students, faculty and staff submitted ahead of time and during the Town Hall.