Weber State’s financial picture for the next fiscal year calls for about $3-4 million in ongoing budget cuts as a result of wide-ranging effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The figure may increase or decrease as conditions change, and university leaders are preparing for a variety of job cuts, buyouts and program impacts, the full scope of which hasn’t yet been made apparent.
“Most of the effect of COVID-19 will be felt financially in fiscal year 2020-21,” WSU vice president for administrative services Norm Tarbox said during a WSU Board of Trustees meeting in August.
The cuts will come out of the university’s operating budget, which is primarily funded by tuition money and tax funds.
In an email message to the Standard-Examiner through a university spokesperson, Tarbox wrote that “more than 85% of the operating budget is spent on salaries and benefits for employees.”
Tarbox told the BOT that one of the ways the university will cut its budget is through buyouts (termed voluntary separation incentive payments, or VSIP).
The application period for VSIP is open until the end of September, according to Tarbox, and employees’ applications that are approved will have a termination date of July 1, 2021 or sooner.
The source of the budget cuts is mainly from a 2.5% reduction in state funding for Weber State. That’s $2,451,100 that was approved by the Legislature over the summer.
At the BOT meeting, Tarbox said the university’s enrollment was down 16% at the start of the fall registration period compared to the same time the year before.
Right now, the university estimates its enrollment has rebounded and is nearly on par with where it was this time last year. WSU reported a record 29,644 students in its official headcount for the 2019-20 school year.
In August, WSU announced it was reducing student fees for the fall semester by 15%, or around $75 for a full-time student, and it will take a financial hit there.
In the BOT meeting, Tarbox said the argument for getting a tuition refund or discount didn’t hold water because the classes still yield the same amount of credits, but that the student fee reduction argument was strong.
“But with regard to student fees where specific extracurricular activities are being sponsored that may not look anywhere near like they look in a normal year, the argument about student fee refunds I think is strong, but consequently scarier to the chief financial officer,” Tarbox told the board.
On-campus “auxiliaries” services such as the bookstore, student housing and athletics will continue to struggle, Tarbox told the board. Auxiliaries don’t receive tax funds, according to Tarbox, and have to break even through revenue they generate.
There’s particular concern with athletics, since the Big Sky Conference, of which WSU is a member, postponed fall sports, putting a large chunk of football and basketball-driven revenue in question.
It’s also unknown how COVID-19 will affect enrollment beyond the 2020-21 school year.
Weber State secured around $18 million in CARES Act money to help with COVID-19-related costs but that money has restrictions on its use and can’t be used to cover salaries and benefits, according to Tarbox.
The $18 million, most of which has already been used, will be spent on things such as direct aid to students, classroom technology, personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing/contract tracing.