Dr. Phil Schubert, president of the university, said the university is preparing for a 5-6% drop in freshman enrollment amid the coronavirus pandemic, though that number may change as the fall approaches.
“It’s hard to forecast where we might be, but we can make a reasonable forecast of where we might be in the fall,” Schubert said in an online Q&A with faculty and staff Thursday. “We are running behind on our deposits, but you would expect that.”
Schubert and Dr. Robert Rhodes, provost, conducted the event to address the university’s continue response to COVID-19 and to answer questions as the university leadership team moves into the summer planning stage.
Schubert said the most likely reasons enrollment would drop is because students are less willing to travel from home and want to avoid an environment like a residence hall and cafeteria. Schubert also said many incoming freshmen families have been financially impacted.
Last year’s freshman enrollment was between 900 and 925. Rhodes said while this will be a challenge for the university, it’s something the Senior Leadership Team is preparing for.
“We know we’re going to be down some, as almost every university in the nation,” Rhodes said. “We expect it to be a manageable amount, but we do need things to manage that.”
The university surveyed incoming freshmen and concluded that 43% of their family’s financial situations had changed significantly since the beginning of March. It also reported that 34% had at least one of their parents or guardians experiencing reduced hours of work or loss of employment.
“Those are pretty staggering statistics,” Schubert said. “It does indicate that there is a significant amount of uncertainty, and we’re taking great steps to come alongside every family.”
To mitigate financial losses, the university has already made budget adjustments in several areas, saving over $5.5 million.
Some of those cuts include a four month suspension of ACU’s matching contributions to the employee retirement plan and limiting university-sponsored travel until at least Sept. 30.
Schubert and Rhodes also have taken a 20% cut from their annual salaries.
“I want to thank our faculty for the tremendous amount of work you’ve completed and are still doing,” Schubert said. “Your resilience and determination has been amazing to watch.”
Over the past three weeks, the university has delivered over $2 million of additional financial aid to incoming freshmen and returning students and hope to continue with that process.
“We’re setting money aside, and we’re trying to identify the needs that every family has,” Schubert said.”There are a number of different options to come alongside them and create a path forward they can have confidence in.”
While these are unusual times, Schubert reminded the community that this too shall pass.
“We said in a previous meeting that we weren’t going to stand still, and we’re not,” Schubert said. “What we are engaged in now is temporary and we’re going to move forward, but we’re going to do so thoughtfully and carefully.”