Students react to room and board adjustments

Kim Corona

After weeks of deliberation and students demanding answers from the school, Ursinus announced its decision regarding room and board reimbursement on Friday. Students reacted with a mixture of relief and frustration.

An email sent by President Brock Blomberg to Ursinus students stated that the school will be adjusting boarding costs (such as dining and meals) completely for the time students were away from campus. Since many of the costs related to rooms including energy, maintenance, and cleaning, are “fixed on a semester basis,” he wrote, room-related charges will be adjusted partially. 

The email stated that the school explored several options that followed the guidance set by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administration.

Blomberg outlined the implications of the decision for graduating seniors, then explained options available for returning students. 

For graduating seniors, the total room and board adjustment will be $2,200. This only applies to graduating seniors who haven’t resided on campus since Monday, March 23 (many students have not been on campus since the start of Spring Break on March 6). The amount covers the eight weeks seniors would have resided on campus, including the “Senior Week” leading up to Commencement. 

However, graduating seniors won’t get a hold of the credit adjustment particularly soon. The money will not be applied to student accounts for the spring 2020 term until June. 

For some, the delay in receiving the money is disappointing.  

Senior Juliette Reinhardt stated, “I’m not that upset about the amount. It’s more than I thought but students need that money now, not later.”

Students of the college had expressed frustration and disappointment in the delay of the school’s decision. Many students and families are relying on the reimbursement as it may result in less of a financial burden amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Erin Fowler ’20 said, “I’m super disappointed how long it took them to respond to us.”

As for the rest of the students, there are several scenarios. Returning students who have fully paid their tuition can choose between a $2,100 credit for the Fall or a $1,600 refund.

The first option of $2,100 credit reflects the seven weeks the students would have resided on campus after March 23. The credited amount will be applied toward the upcoming school semester for academic charges. 

The second option is a $1,600 adjustment that can be refunded in the form of a check later on this current semester. 

A survey outlining these options along with asking students their preference was sent out this week by the office of Student Financial Services.  

For returning students with an outstanding account balance, the total room and board adjustment will be $1,600. The school will first apply this towards the student’s outstanding balance, followed by a refund of any remaining credit balance in the form of a check in the upcoming weeks. 

No further action is required by graduating seniors and returning students with an outstanding account balance. 

Some students have expressed confusion regarding the options for returning students. Junior Donovan Erskine discussed the financial burden it will put on some students. 

“Students that are struggling financially have to decide between a much smaller check and nothing else, or not see the money at all as credit for the next semester that barely covers half of what we are missing out on. This was incredibly predictable especially when you have to constantly remind yourself that you are not a student, you are a client,” he said. 

Sophomore Ashly Chavez shared, “It’s frustrating for students who need that actual money and the fact that they take away money for students if they ask for it back is annoying.” 

Vice President for Finance and Administration, Annette Parker discussed the breakdown on the adjustments to room & board.

Parker explained that for the COVID-19 shutdown period, full adjustments to fees would be given 100% back to families for board. However, as for room, only half adjustments to fees would be given back to families while the other half would be absorbed by the College.

“These are, obviously, not normal circumstances. There are factors here, though, that do still affect this approach.  Please note that almost 100% of room costs are fixed, debt service, maintenance, etc. and the few variable costs, like cleaning, have actually gone up, so the College is not saving money on the shutdown. In fact, the reverse is true. With the exception of being able to turn thermostats back somewhat to save energy, all other costs continue to accrue to the college at the full level whether rooms are occupied or not,” said Parker.

Director of Student Financial service, Ellen Curcio, explained the school’s rationale for these options.

She explained that the college’s policy is that after the first day of the semester, students are responsible for the full semester room charge. However, the school is making an exception this year due to the extreme difficulty posed by COVID-19.

“While our first priority is providing a choice and additional flexibility for our students, we’re also looking at ways to absorb these changes over a greater period of time. We think by offering students a credit in the fall, in contrast to a spring semester adjustment, the college can better plan for any unknowns, lessening the impact on our students and still deliver a high quality academic experience,” said Curcio. 

She continued, “We also recognize that students may be feeling an economic punch and due to a number of reasons, still have a balance remaining on their accounts. The spring adjustment allows them to reconcile, or make significant headway to resolving that outstanding balance in the short-term.”

Junior Maggie Frymoyer thought the school was putting its own financial health ahead of students’. “I guess I understand what the school is doing and it feels like they are simply on damage control. I know we have the money to give full payouts to students who need the money now. But the school is too concerned about keeping money that they don’t realize that $500 means so much to a lot of students right now.”

Financial matters pertaining to work-study, additional fees for courses and more are still a concern for some students.

Christopher Moreno ’22 said, “We have invested so much time, effort, and money into this institution for them to reimburse us with the minimum. And on top of that my work study is gone. I can’t file for unemployment and I can’t work due to the pandemic so what is my compensation during this pandemic? Nothing.” 

According to the Ursinus website, “the college is unable to continue paying students through the federal work/study who are not currently working in campus-related jobs.” The school has urged students who are facing urgent financial need to apply to the Bear2Bear student emergency fund. 

It’s important to note that many college students were excluded from the stimulus package that was recently passed. If students were claimed as dependents by their parents, they won’t receive a $1,200 check, and due to their age, their parents won’t receive $500 due to the qualifying age limit.

The college faces serious implications from the shutdown. Parker said there could be:

“A substantial impact on instruction and, more broadly, the college’s finances, with an estimated total of what is looking to be somewhere in the neighborhood of five to six million dollars – and the additions to that tally have not ended. Lost revenue and additional costs are now approaching 10% of our operating budget.”

She explained that the operating budget of the college, specifically the revenue sources such as tuition (minus financial aid), room and board, annual giving, endowment spending and other sources of revenue go into supporting all of the academic, residential and athletic costs of the college.

“They also support the entire infrastructure of Ursinus. It may help to think of our campus as a small town—we have utilities to pay, a security force, daily upkeep, dozens of buildings that include a number of residences,” she said.

Parker added, “As we address this staggering shortfall, we are making every effort to balance the best interests of students right now, as well as those in the future. The size of the costs from this semester, plus uncertainties in the coming year, have the potential of doing permanent damage to the quality of the institution and its long-term reputation. This would do a disservice to returning students if we could no longer offer the quality of experience that Ursinus students have come to expect, and a disservice to graduates from a reputational damage to the value of an Ursinus diploma. We are completely committed to avoiding such an outcome, and we can only do that if all parts of the college community share the financial burdens that we face.”