As Montclair State University grapples with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the university faces a financial crisis.
Students are anxious to learn how they will benefit from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act as the school seeks to compensate students. The CARES Act provides $2 trillion in direct cash assistance to students impacted by the disruption of campus operations resulting from the COVID-19 emergency.
Jailene Vasquez, a sophomore public health major, is waiting to hear when Montclair State will distribute the financial benefits received through the CARES Act.
“All I want is a proper answer as to where the money from the CARES Act is going toward,” Vaquez said. [“Montclair State University] should be required to give at least 50% of those funds directly to students. I want to know when can we expect these funds and how will they be distributed.”
Students can apply for a CARES Act grant via the Montclair State website. Once the application is reviewed and approved, students will see the funds disburse through their student account and processed as a refund.
Ashley Zweig, a junior majoring in family science and human development, is registered to take four summer classes and noticed a university health fee charge on her bill.
“My initial reaction was shock because how can the university charge us a health fee when we won’t physically be on campus?” Zweig said. “I called Red Hawk Central multiple times on Monday [May 11] and I never got a response, so I called the office of Susan Cole and was told someone from billing would get in contact with me. A few hours later, I finally received a call from Red Hawk Central and was told this fee is not waivable.”
David Trubatch, associate professor for applied mathematics and statistics, stated that students will not be financially impacted in terms of tuition. There hasn’t been any decision made yet with respect toward tuition next year, but if there is an increase, it will be very minimal. The plan, though, is to stray away from raising tuition.
“We will not be raising tuition to make up for any loss of revenue because that would be not economically feasible for any of the students,” Trubatch said.
Gov. Murphy signed a bill on May 16 for students who were unable to complete the full semester or had to drop down to part-time students. This bill assures that these students won’t have to return money from state aid.
As for employees, faculty and adjuncts, their concerns are cuts in salary, different class sizes and a possibility of not being hired back for the fall semester.
According to Trubatch, there will be no salary cuts for full-time employees and faculty at this point in time. The hiring freeze has been in place since mid-March when the university cut back on its temporary employees.
Mary Wallace, an adjunct professor at Montclair State and the president of the Montclair Adjunct Union Local, hopes the university will keep some adjuncts employed since many of them depend upon these jobs for their livelihood.
“Unfortunately, the adjunct faculty, 1,200 of us, are the most vulnerable to losing jobs,” Wallace said. “Rather than the massive cuts of adjuncts, I would hope the university would continue to offer courses and dip into some reserves to keep adjuncts employed.”
The university ensures that the expenses are only going to the highest priorities to make up for the loss in revenue and additional spending.
“There’s a lot of unknowns for the year in terms of moments so we need to continue to be visual in terms of how we spend our money,” Trubatch said.
Karen Pennington, vice president for student development and campus life, stated that the plan for faculty and staff is to have everyone back on campus by mid-June if the current situation does not change.
“Regarding faculty and staff, if we are allowed to come back 10% or 50%, 80% of those are different scenarios we will have to put in place in terms of social distancing, face mask, non-face mask, partitions, non-partitions,” Pennington said. “But right now what everybody’s going through is a bunch of different exercises to talk about the many different conversations that there might be. We may know more about the government’s office by that time and we will be able to see what solutions we might use.”
Enrollment has been an increasing struggle for the institution since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Enrollment has declined by 33% and continues to drop as students plan to take a semester off. The deadline for freshman enrollment for the fall has been extended to June 1.
“We are hearing nationwide that students are reluctant to go away from their families and leave at all and to make a commitment because they don’t know what the future is going to be,” Pennington said.
Pennington discussed some of the issues the university is aware of when considering enrollment.
“The other problem that we’ve seen and read about was [incoming] freshman using the spring to make their decisions so they have not made their trip to campus yet to even see what the campus looks like,” Pennington said. “Seeing [the campus] now is not the same as seeing it when there are other [students and faculty]. The uncertainty is really having a big impact on student’s ability to make a decision and then you add that to the economic losses the families are feeling so they are also reluctant to whether or not they will be able to afford it.”
As for housing, the university conducted an advanced sign-up for fall housing as they do every spring semester, but are still working on different scenarios to provide the safest and most feasible decision possible.
As a result of these cuts, the school has announced the close of academic programs such as the School of Conservation. This resulted in job losses of two part-time employees and 18 full-time professors. This was a difficult decision made by the university, as students may have sought to apply to the program in the fall.
As the school’s financial crisis proceeds, further updates will be announced throughout the summer.