When Stephen F. Austin State University moved all classes online due to concerns regarding the impending impact of COVID-19, administrators immediately began calculating the best way to reimburse students for the money they had paid for housing, food service, and on-campus activities that would no longer be accessible. The university refunded approximately $9 million to students.
“Refunding this money to our students was not only the right thing to do, it was essential in order to assist our Lumberjacks and their families during this very difficult financial time. We are a family, and families help one another,” said SFA President Scott Gordon.
As of now, the institution is facing a loss of about $12 million, due to refunds, lost revenue from canceled events and the cost of moving classes online. This amount will continue to increase as restrictions continue, especially if the fall semester is impacted.
Collectively, Texas institutions of higher education were awarded more than $1 billion of the $14 billion available from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a part of the federal stimulus bill known as the CARES Act.
SFA has been allocated approximately $10.5 million from the CARES Act and will distribute the entire initial allotment of $5.2 million to students, according to Gordon. The funds are mandated for use as emergency aid for students dealing with coronavirus-related disruptions such as housing displacement, job loss or other hardship.
“This initial allotment cannot be used to fill the financial holes of the institution as a result of COVID-19” said Gordon. “We are pleased that these funds will be able to assist students who have a demonstrated need and are experiencing significant financial challenges.”
As for the university, there is hope that a second allotment of funds will be able to help institutions recover from this pandemic. Even so, according to Gordon, the funding will not completely offset the financial losses incurred during spring and into the summer – or the losses that are expected if restrictions continue into the fall semester.
“Thankfully, we had reserves for a rainy day,” he said. “However, this is not just a rainy day, it’s a downpour and we have a great deal of work to do to rebuild our reserves to the previous level.”
Gordon said the university will be looking at a variety of ways to recover financially.
“We will make the necessary decisions with a focus on keeping the best interests of SFA students, faculty, staff and our mission in mind,” Gordon said.
The university plans to provide information and resources soon for students who have been impacted by COVID-19, who have demonstrated need and are facing significant financial challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.