By Emma Vallelunga
SUNY Plattsburgh’s fiscal projections have been declining since last year due to lack of enrollment, spring semester refunds and the coronavirus pandemic, but there are still many unknowns for where, when and how money will circulate through the college.
Vice President of Administration and Finance Josee Larochelle gave a presentation on Zoom to faculty Sept. 30. While the New York State fiscal year 2021 budget is projecting a $15 billion deficit, Larochelle said it is unclear what this means for SUNY and SUNY Plattsburgh.
“We know that the direct state support the college received will be reduced. We still don’t know how much or when,” Larochelle said. “We don’t know if this reduction will be temporary or permanent.”
The current estimate by SUNY for all state support is a minimum reduction of 20%. This decrease could potentially impact future TAP and Excelsior funding. SUNY’s spending constraints implemented in April of this year, including the college’s Hiring and Salary Program, are projected to continue until further notice.
CARES ACT & REFUNDS
According to Larochelle, SUNY Plattsburgh received $5.26 million in federal government funding for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to give eligible students financial aid grants for expenses related to the pandemic. Half of that funding, or $2.63 million, was set aside for students as Student Emergency CARES Grants. $2.46 million have been awarded to date, and about $165,000 are left to award students this academic year.
The other half of the CARES Act funding was used to reimburse the college for the last semester’s refunds issued to students for housing and other mandatory fees, such as the athletic, recreation and parking fee. Larochelle said SUNY Plattsburgh was prohibited from reimbursing the meal plan and Student Association funds because those refunds are handled by third parties. In total, the college issued $7.4 million in refunds to students for last semester’s term.
During fiscal year 2019-2020, SUNY Plattsburgh collected a total $3.9 million less in tuition revenue, $1.5 million due to lack of enrollment and $2.4 million due to delays in tuition payments. A slight increase in enrollment for summer tuition resulted in $386,000 more revenue, but lower occupancy levels in residence halls caused $1.8 million less in room rent revenue. However, new student headcount numbers from this semester show an increase of $500,000 more in tuition revenue if next semester enrollments are projected accurately.
FISCAL YEAR FINANCIAL IMPACTS
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to how SUNY Plattsburgh’s current fiscal year will look. Although the college received 85% of direct state support in July of this year for fiscal year 2019-2020, the college has yet to receive the additional 15%. And even though the CARES Act funding helped offset last semester’s refunds, the college also has yet to receive an estimated $10.5 million in direct state support for fiscal year 2020-2021. If NYS TAP and Excelsior funding is reduced by 20% as projected, and university-wide programs are limited to 25% funding with the addition of COVID-19 expenses and non-budgeted critical needs, the potential monetary impact to SUNY Plattsburgh would be about $3.3 million less in revenue.
NEXT STEPS & ASSUMPTIONS
Although SUNY expenditure restrictions will continue, the college has submitted a six-month “financial plan of action” budget to SUNY for fiscal year 2020-2021 to review and approve by SUNY Business Intelligence. The college assumes it will receive 70% of direct state support for fiscal year 2020-2021 but also assumes it will not receive the additional 15% for fiscal year 2019-2020. Larochelle urged SUNY Plattsburgh faculty to keep in mind that NYS has yet to make a decision on its Higher Education support for this fiscal year, and the state’s budget and cash situation is requiring all state agencies, “to reduce expenses to the greatest extent possible.”
“It’s hard to digest where we are, how we’ve done and how we’re going to move forward,” Larochelle said. “We don’t have all the answers, but we’ve worked together for the past three years in creating an environment where we can invest in the needs of this institution and our students. We can work together to strive through this difficult time. We need answers by the Board of Trustees and by the State of New York. What’s been presented to you today is the best information that we can provide with many of these uncertainties. We can’t wait to have final answers to manage our precious resources and meet our students’ needs.”