University counts on spring enrollment to balance the budget


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PowerPoint slide from Sept. 14 Faculty Assembly 2020-21 Budget Overview.

Sam Hostetter, Reporter

California Lutheran University announced a 20% revenue shortfall in September and had to quickly adapt, reducing spending on goods and services, furloughing 10% of staff and asking faculty to forfeit their retirement contributions.

Now the university looks to the spring semester as a means of economic recovery.

“If we can increase our spring housing and meal plan numbers, maintain our fall-to-spring retention rates, enroll students in inter-session courses, and maintain spring enrollment in the graduate programs, then we will likely escape further cuts,” Vice President of Administration and Finance Karen Davis said in an email interview. “If we are unable to do one or more of those, there is a possibility we will need to make additional cuts this spring and summer.”

The university is hoping to bring 668 students back to campus housing, which would still allow each student to have their own bedroom, Davis said.

On Oct. 15, the university announced via email their plan to hold in-person traditional undergraduate classes in the spring, while still offering the option of fully remote classes.

“So we’re changing the way that we’re going to be offering our classes in the spring. So I think that’s going to draw more students back. First and foremost, we want students to come back and stick out for the fall,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Leanne Neilson said in a Zoom interview.

Davis said Cal Lutheran’s smaller class sizes are helping in the efforts to move back to in-person classes much faster than other, larger universities that lack the space for social distancing.

“This will be a competitive advantage and assist in recruitment and retention efforts for next fiscal year,” Davis said.

The university is also encouraging prospective students to meet with Cal Lutheran faculty to ask questions and gain insight about specific programs, Kirk Lesh, assistant professor of Economics, said in a Zoom interview.

“And if those [prospective] students would like to talk to a professor, then you know I’ve given them the okay to say yes, if you have a perspective [economics] student, I’m more than happy to talk to the student and tell them about our program, tell them about CLU, and all the good stuff about CLU,” Lesh said.

Chair of the Music Department and Vice-Chair of the Faculty Senate Michael Hart said in an email interview, “the Music Department has been trying to use our current situation to our benefit. An advantage of Zoom is that we can meet with prospective students who live both nearby and far away.”

Despite aiming to incentivize more students to attend Cal Lutheran through offering some in-person courses in the spring, Media Relations Manager Karin Grennan said in an email interview that the university has a new, lower enrollment target.

“We have set a conservative target of 2,436 undergraduates, including 10 new first-year students and 35 transfer students. This is 9% lower than our planning assumption before COVID-19. The spring goal for overall Cal Lutheran enrollment, including Professionals and all graduate programs, is about 3,900 students, or 7% lower than spring of 2019,” Grennan said.

While the university is seeing lower-than-projected revenue as a result of reduced enrollment and residential students, the Associated Students of California Lutheran University Government is not experiencing any financial impact.

“We surprisingly, because of the pandemic and how it abruptly put an end to so many activities last spring, we haven’t had as big of a financial hit and impact as we projected for ourselves,” Senior and ASCLU Senate Director Garrett James Wyatt said in a Zoom interview. “Because of that abrupt stop of activities, we’ve had a large amount of rollover from the last semester that has put us at a fairly normal budget that we usually would have.”

Because ASCLUG allocates funding for clubs and organizations, this rollover from the previous semester means some clubs may have more flexibility in their budgets.

“There have been some clubs that have really been working hard to try and find ways to still function virtually. So some of that, some clubs are doing care packages for their members, some are renting movies that they can like all live stream together over Zoom,” Wyatt said.

Josh Gatison, ASCLUG president, declined The Echo’s request for an interview.

“The resiliency and adaptability of the students, faculty and staff over the past 7 months has been amazing,” Davis said.

Editor’s note: Sam Hostetter was a former ASCLU Senator during her first and second year at Cal Lutheran but is not a member of the current board, which was elected during the spring of 2020.