WINCHESTER — Most college campuses are still determining how they will operate in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, and many are bracing for a possible decline in student enrollment.
But the presidents of Shenandoah University and Lord Fairfax Community College said in recent interviews that their enrollment projections for this coming fall look like they could go up.
"Part of it is, in a time of crisis, people often turn to bettering themselves," SU President Tracy Fitzsimmons said. "There may not be jobs available now, but if they go to school, they continue in school or go back to school, they might be able to position themselves better for when jobs are available."
Amid coronavirus concerns, SU in mid-March halted in-person learning at its main campus in Winchester and five other locations and moved to online classes for the remainder of the spring semester. LFCC, which has campuses in Middletown, Warenton and Luray, transitioned to online-only classes in late March in response to the pandemic.
In times of such uncertainty, Fitzsimmons said it's hard to know how many students will attend the first day of classes in the fall, since they can always change their minds. Last fall, 3,791 students were enrolled at SU.
LFCC President Kim Blosser said community colleges typically do better in an economic crisis, which is why she expects to see more students enrolled this fall. LFCC had more than 6,100 credit-earning students enrolled for the spring semester.
Blosser said she isn't sure how a health crisis combined with an economic one will impact enrollment, but she does believe that people who have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic may turn to LFCC to learn new skills. She also thinks that some students who were planning on attending a four-year institution in the fall may change their minds.
"Right now, we are anticipating some amount of growth, because we know some of those students who were maybe going to four-years are either not in a financial position to be able to do that or are a little concerned about how they're going to go in a dorm," Blosser said.
If SU decides to continue teaching online for another semester or longer, Fitzsimmons said students will likely see a temporary drop in their tuition costs. While tuition varies by college at SU, which is a private institution, undergraduate tuition is set to increase at its College of Arts and Sciences from $31,890 for two semesters in the 2019-20 academic year to $32,255 for the 2020-21 school year. Room and board is an additional cost.
At LFCC, tuition is set to remain the same, said Blosser, adding that LFCC's tuition is set by a state board. In-state tuition at LFCC is $154 per credit hour, with an average of 15 credit hours per semester costing about $4,620 for the 2020-21 school year.
Both LFCC and SU will receive money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included funding for higher education. Blosser said LFCC will get more than $2.3 million. Half of that will go toward direct check payments to students eligible for financial aid who were impacted by the campus closures. Some of the remaining funds will go toward emergency scholarships that any LFCC student can apply for.
Shenandoah University will receive $1,020,101 from the CARES Act. Half of the money must go to students eligible for financial aid who were impacted by campus closures. SU refunded the cost of room and board to its students for the spring semester, Fitzsimmons said. Students can also roll over the money to next year's tuition and fees, or students can donate the funds to another student in need, she added.
"We are not a wealthy institution," Fitzsimmons said. "We are very careful, very conservative with our money, but we just felt like the students needed that money more than we did."
She added that the university will have a balanced budget at the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30. The university plans to pay all of it employees, including benefits, until then.
"This community does not need more people put in the employment lines, so to the best of our ability we are working to keep folks employed here at Shenandoah," Fitzsimmons said.
Once the new fiscal year begins July 1, there's "a lot of different possibilities" to what may happen next for SU employees, she said.
LFCC is under a hiring freeze, although that doesn't apply to faculty positions. As of April, there had been no layoffs. But Blosser does expect that some budget cuts will have to be made for fiscal year 2021, though she doesn't anticipate layoffs.
SU has several possible scenarios planned for the fall, including opening the campus on-time and in-person, which is what the university is anticipating, Fitzsimmons said. Another option is to begin the fall semester online and transition to in-person classes later or even to shift to online classes for the entire semester.
"We've also been planning 'what if every class had to be 10 [people] or smaller,'" Fitzsimmons said. "We could do that."
At SU, the average class size is less than 25 students, and the student to teacher ratio is 1:10. If Gov. Ralph Northam's restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people is required in the fall, Fitzsimmons said the university could easily adapt.
At LFCC, Blosser said she expects more social distancing throughout campus as well as smaller class sizes for subjects that need classroom time, such as welding or nursing. Facial coverings may still be required for students and staff.
She also expects most classes and lectures will be online and that teleworking for staff will likely continue for the next year.
"I think it's definitely, at least for this next year, going to look very different," she said.